Monday, August 30, 2010

Chickpea-cornmeal polenta

I had company for supper last night.  The Moon Goddess came for dinner because all her Men were away playing some game.  So I made an extra effort and more than one dish.  But this is the dish I invented for the occasion.  Does the creativity never end here at The Airy Way? 

I'm sure all of you have tried (or at least heard of) regular (cornmeal) polenta, mainstay of the Roman legions; and I'm sure some of you have tried (or at least heard of) chickpea polenta in one form or another...but this is a brilliant combination of both.  Not as nutritionally empty as regular polenta, healthy and flavourful as only chickpea flour can be, yet with that excellent cornmeal's chickpea-cornmeal polenta!  Again, I'm quite sure that I can't possibly be the original inventor of this dish, but I invented it at least for myself, and now I can share it with you.

Zoa's chickpea-cornmeal polenta
Serves 4

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup besan (chickpea flour)
4 cups water + 1 tbsp broth powder OR 3 cups vegetable broth
Salt to taste

Add the cornmeal and the chickpea flour to the water and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain.  Taste for salt and add more salt if needed.  Bring to a relative boil, then continue to cook on medium-low heat, covered, but stirring frequently, until thick and smooth, about 20 minutes.  The "beany" taste of the besan flour should be gone by this time, and the mixture should be sticking more to itself than to the sides of the pan.

Now pour the mixture out onto a smooth surface.  This picture is messy because my original surface, one of those plastic cutting boards from Ikea, decided to buckle and heave with the heat of the polenta, and so I had to transfer it at the last minute to a casserole dish.  I hope you will learn from my mistake and just pour your mixture into a casserole dish.  Press down with a wet spoon or (when slightly cooled) your wet hands, and set aside to cool.  It can cool for some time under a protective cloth, up to half a day if need be.

Now take a cookie cutter or a sherry glass, whatever is most convenient, and cut circles out of the cooled polenta. 

There will be some edges and corners between the nice circles; these will form your bottom layer in the pan in which you will bake the finished dish.  Top the scraps with your lovely circles:

Brush with olive oil or melted Earth Balance, and pour on a simple tomato sauce (this is my favorite very simple raw sauce of canned tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, ground up with an immersion blender), and bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes or so until hot and beginning to brown.

This is just amazingly tasty.  Served here with mushrooms fried in olive oil, white wine, salt and pepper; large lima beans baked in broth, broccoli roasted with lemon pepper and olive oil, and a special kind of bun stuffed with zucchini, onions, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  So good!

Unfortunately, the Moon Goddess learned beforehand that Grandma Lulu and Katee were having macaroni and tomatoes over at Katee's house, so her mind was half elsewhere.  You know how sometimes some members of a family will have absolute favorite dishes that other members of the same family (albeit different generations) just don't get?  That's macaroni and tomatoes.  What is macaroni and tomatoes?  Gah, what does it sound like, people--macaroni, and tomatoes (and raw onions).  I just don't get it, but it is the comfort food par excellence of my mother, aunts, and grandmother.  Mind you, I hear from informed sources that Katee's version was something really extra-special, with--gasp--additional ingredients...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hot pots and noodle bowls, simplified

I'm smitten.  Every night that I'm not making dumplings, I'm into the hot pots and noodle bowls, and now that I've got the technique down, they're so easy, and so fast, and really such a nice thing to do on a work night, putting together a pretty little meal that doesn't make a huge mess or keep you up all night doing dishes.

For both hot pots and noodle bowls, you want to start with a good stock.  This is the beginning of a variation on the Delicious stock from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, but you can of course use a Japanese dashi, or whatever stock tastes good to you.  (The dried mushrooms can be eaten after the stock is done.)  Ideally, the stock is all made ahead of time.

For hot pots, first you build the hot pot on top of a layer of Chinese or savoy cabbage:

Pour on some stock, cover, and cook until the vegetables are just tender, usually around ten minutes.  While it's cooking, you can make your rice or boil noodles to serve with the hot pot.  Cooked noodles get strained and rinsed in cold water to stop them cooking; properly rinsed they'll hold out in the strainer without gluing themselves into a mass for the time it takes the rest of the meal to come together.

Incidentally, those white noodles in the pot are shirataki noodles.  These are the plain kind (there is also a tofu kind).  They're made from a type of yam and recently have been billed here and there as a no-calorie, high-fibre miracle food ("Imagine a world where noodles are calorie free!").  What are they like?  They come water-packed in little plastic packets that cost about $2 Cdn each.  Right out of the packet they're pretty disgusting, with an unpleasant fishy smell.  Rinsed, they have no taste or smell at all, and will take on the taste of whatever they're cooked with.  The texture is somewhat rubbery, but they won't turn mushy in the broth, which makes them good for dishes like this.  I admit I liked them and will certainly buy them again.  The tofu kind has a little tofu added, which is supposed to lessen the rubberiness somewhat and add some flavour (and also a very few calories) but I haven't tried it yet.

Now add anything that only takes a minute to cook:

Put the noodles in the bottom of your bowl, add vegetables from the hot pot, pour on some of the stock, and you're done!  You can also add condiments at this point: a few drops of sesame oil, a little soy sauce, hot sauce if you wish:

For noodle bowls, I've got a one-pot method that uses a saucepan with a steamer insert.  Have your broth ready ahead of time and in a measuring cup for microwaving (if you don't have a microwave or prefer not to use it, then it's a two-pot method: heat the stock in a small pot and keep it simmering).

Cook the noodles in the pot part of the steamer.  When done, drain them or fish them out into a strainer, rinse them in cold water to stop them cooking, and set them aside.  Now place the longer-cooking vegetables into the steamer basket and steam until just tender:

Add the ones that only take a minute and steam for another minute:

Put the noodles into the bottom of the bowl, arrange the vegetables on top of them, and pour on the very hot stock.  That's it!  I was rebelling against all the uncanny orderliness around here lately and deconstructed this one:

Here's some miso soup I had last night that I just made all in one pot because I wanted the vegetables to flavour the broth.  It's possible to do it this way as well, and if you want order in the bowl afterwards, just place the cooked noodles in the bottom of the bowl, carefully fish out the vegetables and tofu and arrange them on the noodles the way you want them, then ladle hot broth over them.

There are potatoes in this miso soup (they were cooked separately).  The possibilities, Eastern and Western, are endless...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More dumplings of genius

Was yesterday's dumpling miracle a fluke?  Or perhaps it would only work with cornmeal?  I had to know.  So I revived the leftovers of yesterday's stew with red and green sweet peppers, corn, cannellini beans, and long beans cut up small, and tried basically the same recipe with all white flour. 

You'll get better taste with whole wheat flour, but I was curious to know if the urad flour would change the colour of the dumplings at all (it didn't).  This is so my new absolute favorite dumpling recipe (both cornmeal and wheat flour versions)!  Probably in India they're all over this, but I've never seen this technique anywhere, and it should be everywhere.  The problem with regular vegan dumplings, the kind that are basically flour, baking powder, salt, oil, and liquid, is that they get a little bit mushy around the edges as they cook.  They still taste great, but the mushiness is a fact.

But add a little urad flour to the mix, and they stay completely solid.  The taste of the urad flour, very evident in the raw batter, disappears entirely during cooking, to the point where I think you would want to add some extra seasoning, at least to the white flour version.

Actually, I did add some seasoning, a little black salt, which gave the dumplings a very very slightly "eggy" flavour that I liked a lot but that is completely optional for the success of this recipe.  Here it is:

Zoa's urad flour dumplings
Serves 2

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp flour (white or whole wheat)
2 tbsp urad flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (use 1/4 tsp if you're also using black salt)
1/4 tsp kala namak (black salt; optional)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup non-dairy milk
3/4 tbsp Earth Balance, softened, or canola oil

Mix the dry ingredients together, then stir in the non-dairy milk and Earth Balance or oil, and mix just until blended.  Drop by teaspoonfuls into simmering stew or soup:

Cover and cook for 15 minutes:

Look how firm and lovely they are:

...and they are so good!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Squash and tomato stew + cornmeal dumplings

Have I mentioned that I love zucchini?  I've lived through 46 changes of the seasons, but more so than ever with every year that passes, each one seems like the first.  Today was a cool, mostly cloudy day, and I was thrilled.  I mean, spring makes me want to scream with excitement, but fall is the true home of my heart, perhaps because I was born in the fall, perhaps because I always looked forward to going back to school and so for me even at my advanced age it's still a time of new beginnings.

Anyway, on to today's dish.  This is the Squash and tomato stew from Anna Thomas's The Vegetarian Epicure, Book 2.  I did change it, but only slightly, not enough to warrant breaching the author's copyright on such an awesome dish.  The dumplings, however, are an original revelation, an experiment-in-progress that nevertheless rocked, and the recipe is in this post.

Maybe you don't need a recipe for the stew.  To make it, chop up an onion and fry it in lots of olive oil.  When translucent, add garlic, some ground cumin, and cinnamon, two minced jalapeno peppers, and a little salt.  Cook for a few minutes, then add chopped yellow winter squash or (as I did) sweet potato, along with some canned tomatoes and some water: 

Bring this mixture to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer about 40 minutes, or until the sweet potato is just barely tender.  Now add the zucchini, a few tablespoons of cilantro, and a little sugar:

It's looking nice!  Let this simmer for about five minutes, while you put together the dumpling dough.  The dumplings were an inspiration partly from Anna Thomas's recipe, and partly from another Indian recipe from so far in the past that I don't even know where it came from that called for dumplings made from urad dal flour cooked in a little sauce...but those urad dumplings were like rocks.  I figure if all-urad-all-the-time = rocks, some urad should be able to take the place of an egg in regular dumplings, and I was right!  As far as I now know, there are no subsitutions.  For instance, I know that besan (chickpea) flour would not work.  Urad flour is what you need.  It's available in medium-sized packets in my local Superstore, but certainly it's in any Indian grocery near you.

Zoa's cornmeal dumplings
Serves 2

1/2 cup corn meal
3 tbsp white flour
2 tbsp urad flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup soymilk
3/4 tbsp Earth Balance, softened

Mix together all the dry ingredients.  When just ready to cook, slightly heat the Earth Balance in the soymilk, then add to the dry ingredients and stir until well mixed.  Drop by teaspoonfuls into the simmering stew (or soup, or boiling salted water if you're not making this stew recipe):

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes:

Serve...and if you're dying to ask if the beets added anything great to this meal, I assure you that they did, and they were beautiful when stirred into the stew, but I didn't get a picture of that, unfortunately, I was too hungry...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Japanese Hot Pots #2

Hot pots are fun, easy, and tidy to cook!  Here's another one. 

This time I started with a piece of kombu at the bottom of the pot, about 1 inch square.  I liked the depth this gave to the finished dish.

Top with chopped cabbage, and build the hot pot over the cabbage.  Here you see long beans, carrots, turnip, king oyster mushrooms, shimeji mushrooms, and fresh tofu.

Pour on a light broth, and cook covered for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables in the pot are nearly ender. 

Add quick-cooking additions (bok choy and enoks), and cook for another two minutes or so:

Tasty!  I ended up adding soy sauce, sriracha sauce, and sesame oil as condiments, and this worked out well (by which I mean that the broth stayed light in colour in the pot and I got exactly the amount of condimentarity I wanted in my individual serving).

It was served over something called Jade Blend from Bulk Barn, which is composed of: bamboo rice, wheat berries, basmati rice, green lentils, split baby garbanzo beans, and daikon radish seeds, and it was actually delicious on its own, but that's not the reason I bought it.  The reason I bought it was that it was so dang gorgeous:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Odd stuff, and 10 things that make me happy

 A nice noodle bowl
Rose was kind enough to give me a Happy 101 award recently.  I enjoyed reading her response very much (and all the sweet things she said about the bloggers she passed it on to).  Counting things that make me happy isn't something I would normally do but once I started thinking about it, it wasn't hard at all to come up with ten things, and it was fun doing the exercise.  Actually I got a little intense and teary over it so had to revise the list to be a little less embarrassingly self-relevatory.  Plus, since I haven't been able to complete an entire dish that was blogworthy since the poached egg, to give this post some visual interest I'll intersperse my list with random pictures of pieces of dishes and other stuff from my life lately.

What makes me happy?  In no particular order:

1.  White noise.  On my personal happiness scale, white noise is currently right up there with a raise, realizing with a start that the weekend coming up is a long weekend that I'd totally forgotten about, a sweet juicy peach, etc.  I have a little old iPod Shuffle and the only thing on it is white noise that I downloaded from iTunes for $2.49, set to play in a continuous stream.  If you take the bus, you're probably familiar with bus rage, that murderous anger seething behind the placid expressionless faces of the riders while some bridezilla screeches into her cell phone that the flowers are the wrong colour, or two co-workers carry on a listless conversation behind you about the tedious trivia of their jobs, or someone at the front is yakking loudly to the driver, or a toddler is babbling and whining, or a group of teenagers at the back are laughing inanely about how drunk they all were the night before, or the person beside you sniffles every three seconds...all the way downtown, while the guy two seats away has a chronic cough.  Irritating fellow passengers, since I got my white noise, I am impervious to you all!  I am listening to the heavy rain of sound on all frequencies and I can see your jaws moving but can't hear a word you're saying!  Ha ha!  Ha ha ha!  I am calm, I am tranquil, the sound itself is relaxing, I am deep in my book and you cannot disturb me, except possibly with heavy perfume or the reek of cigarettes.  If this sounds misanthropic to you, I bet you don't ride the bus every day.

My camera makes me happy - look what it can do!

2.  Kitties.  'Nuf said.

Cheeta, kitty of my heart

3.  Discovering items in grocery stores I've read about but never tried, like black salt.

Long beans Katee bought for me after seeing them on Andrea's blog

4.  The view from my front door:

5.  Ordering books online and having them delivered to my work.

A mix of grains and rice - intriguing!

6.  My family.  Even during those times when I haven't been the sweet and pleasant and accommodating individual I generally am now, back in my non-mellow pre-middle-aged days, they stuck to me like Superglue.  Now as adults we're all, like, BFF, and we hang out, and not because none of us has any other friends, either. 

Three cheers for veganic, no-dig gardening!

7.  Discovering a new trail while walking in an area I thought I knew.  This happens to me more often than one might think since I'm horribly absent-minded and tend not to notice things until suddenly--bam!--whoa, this wasn't there before, was it?  [Trembling with joy and excitement] I wonder where it goes...

8.  Changing seasons.  We have real seasons in northern Canada where I live, and spring and fall are by far my favorites.  Mid-winter and mid-summer are tediously same-y, but now fall is coming, the leaves are turning, it's (sometimes) cool at night, there could be a thunderstorm or rain, not even the weatherman knows!  I'm ready for fall now, July is like, way too hot, and I'm sick of breaking into a sweat just contemplating making a soup or stew.  Generally I'm a cool weather gal anyway, so bring on the snow!

This, however, is not snow

9.  Grocery stores.  Next to bookstores, these are my favorites.  I can browse for hours, and the joy of discovering a new ethnic store makes me come over all faint.  I'm lazy about traveling, and thus am very lucky to live in kind of a small Bermuda Triangle of grocery stores, with Superstore, Safeway and Save-On pinning down the angles, and Indian, Oriental, and Arab markets inside...with of course more within lunchtime walking distance of my place of work.

The wrong kind of noodles for a hot pot, alas

10.  The Internet.  It's a part of me now.  I wouldn't be blogging, or be acquainted with most of you, or know half of what I know about all kinds of things, without it.  Google and Blogger and iTunes and Flickr, even though you are large corporations I feel love for you.  Good work!

Now for passing on the award.  Gah, I'm just way too shy, as usual, sorry, but if the following have read this far and would care to participate, they should consider this a kiss of appreciation blown at their blogs and an interest from me in learning more about you:

Tiffany at Bread Without Butter
Mark and/or Amy at Irreverent Vegan
Tami at Vegan Appetite
Renae at i eat food
La Fourmi at Vegecarib
Gerda at Veggie Prairie Girl
Claryn at Hellyeahitsvegan

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vegan poached eggs + black salt!

Ooh, eureka!  What have I done?  Only perfected the first vegan poached egg, that's all!  As faithful readers of this blog will know, I've been working on eggs for a while, but today I think I came pretty close to the effect I was looking for all this time.

First, the yolk.  Earlier I'd posted about making vegan egg yolks, but I'm going to re-post it now with a slightly easier to follow and more flexible recipe.

Vegan egg yolk
makes 2 large yolks

1/2 tbsp Vegenaise
1 1/4 tsp carrot juice (you can just squeeze this out of a grated carrot)
2 tbsp vegetable broth
1 tbsp vegan margarine
1 1/4 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot

Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.  (On edit:  I've had more dependable results folding the Vegenaise in after the other ingredients have had a chance to set up.)  Microwave for 20 seconds.  Now depending on the initial temperature of your ingredients, keep microwaving in small increments, always under 10 seconds, whisking briskly between each session.  Once the mixture is hot, the sessions should be no more than 6 seconds each, or the mixture may separate.  You'll know when this happens, and if it does, there's nothing you can do about it but start over.  The finished yolk will look like this:

Now make the egg white.  I tried several ways of doing this, including frying tofu, actually creating an egg white out of the omelet recipe from Vegan Brunch and poaching it--doable but I wasn't too keen on the result--poaching tofu (which is actually what you see in most of these pictures) and, finally and most successfully, microwaving tofu for a minute in a covered container.  Here's the microwaved one:

It's important to use the right kind of tofu to get the texture you want.  Use the "fresh" kind, by which I mean the tofu that comes packed in plastic containers of water.  It's nice and soft and has an "eggy" texture.  Firm or extra-firm is too firm for this.  Slice off a piece about 3/4 inch thick and, if you wish, carve it into a roundish shape.  Place it in a shallow bowl, cover, and microwave for 1 minute or until the tofu is hot.  Now the genius part.  Microwaving the tofu makes it give up its water.  Place a spatula over the tofu in the bowl to hold it firmly there, and turn the bowl upside down over the sink.  Apply gentle pressure.  Quite a lot of water should flow out.  When you're satisfied that you have the texture you want, cut a hole in the middle of the slab.  This is where the yolk will go.  Place the hot tofu on a slice of bread:

Now take the part you cut out, the hole, and cut a thin slice of that, and place it in the bottom of the hole in the larger slab to keep the yolk from flowing down into the bread right away:

Spoon in some yolk:

Almost done!  Now you add the magic ingredient: black salt (and you also see black pepper; the salt I sprinkled on was the powder, not the chunks).  I have to thank Andrea for both convincing me and guilting me into finally seeking some of this out.  You can get it in Indian grocery stores, which is where I found mine.

What the heck is black salt?  According to Wikipedia, "Kala namak...also known as black salt or black Indian salt, is a salty and pungent smelling condiment used in India. The condiment is composed largely of sodium chloride with several impurities lending the salt its colour and smell....Sodium chloride provides kala namak with its salty taste, iron sulphide provides its dark violet hue, and all the sulphur compounds give kala namak its slight bitter taste as well as a highly distinctive smell, with hydrogen sulphide being the most prominent contributor to the smell."  What does it smell like?  You guessed it!  Eggs!  What does it taste like?  Why yes, it tastes just like eggs.  Who knew that the taste of eggs could be replicated so easily?  Not me, that's for sure.  To me, fresh tofu sprinkled with black salt tastes exactly like egg white, and I do mean exactly

I tried putting some of it in the tofu poaching water (and incidentally putting it into the Vegan Brunch omelet mix) but couldn't really taste it in the result.  It's best just to sprinkle it on afterwards.

This was so real it was almost scary, and so good I'll be making it again and again:

The tomato, by the way, is the first of the Sweet Millions from my two giant plants.  How did it taste?  Sweet!  How many will I get off these monsters?  Oh, millions!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Japanese hot pots #1

Well, this will be the first in a long, long series, I can tell.  Yes, it is August 6, and yes, I am way overheated, but I still couldn't resist!

This could very easily become my favorite food.

All this is based on the technique of Tadashi Ono which is apparently laid bare in his book entitled Japanese Hot Pots.  I'm not going to buy this book, however, despite Mr. Ono's spirited defense of tofu in the face of a complete-barbarian-ignorant-small-minded-train-wreck-of-a-host-why-does-she-still-have-a-job person at New York's LXTV, only because I'm expecting it to be totally non-vegan.  Anyway, the book's site will give you lots of information on how to put together a hot pot, and I was just gripped.  It's 26C out there, I'm in heat distress, have few of the proper ingredients on hand, and I still was compelled to make this.

How do you do it?  First, you "build" the hot pot.  Cut some savoy cabbage into bite-sized pieces and place it in the bottom of your pot:

Now add the other long-cooking ingredients, arranging them as prettily as possible in "corners" on top of the cabbage:

Pour on vegetable stock just until you can see it in the pan, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes (for carrots, turnips, mushrooms, etc., as shown here):

When these vegetables are just tender, uncover and add something soft, in this case broccoli rabe and green onions. I also added a bit of sesame oil, for flavour:

Cover and cook a little longer, until the new vegetables are tender as well.

Ooh, it's done!

Now spoon over noodles or rice, and enjoy:

So simple, and so awesome...