Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why Vegan? + Spaghetti & Salad

I have to say, the only thing I dislike about being vegan is the amount of effort it takes to explain my diet.

What's wrong with you? So what do you eat? I could never give up cheese and eggs. Would you be offended if I ate meat in front of you? What do you eat when dining out? All you eat is salad, right? No really, why can't you eat this?

My answer: I chose to be vegan to be healthier and more sustainable. As a vegetarian I knew the dairy and egg industry was abhorrent, but loved eggs and cheese and the convenience of eating a slice of pizza for dinner. I refuse to go PETA on someone's ass because they love meat. Being vegan is a lifestyle choice and ideology; if I impose my views and opinions on someone else based on their diet, I'm no better than a religious nut.

Also, there's those who argue that being vegan requires tons of money. I disagree -- I have four dollars and seventy-five cents in my bank account and have somehow managed to still feed myself without dumpster diving. It also helps having a pantry full of canned and dried goods.

In saying that, I introduce to you two vegan dishes Tati and I created over the past weekend. The first, a simple salad created from Trader Joe's groceries.

Warm beet and green bean salad with butter lettuce.

The second, a delicious pasta dish crafted from what was available in my kitchen at the time.

Lemony Tofu and Kale Spaghetti

Warm Beet and Green Bean Salad
1 can cannellini (white) beans, drained and rinsed
2 handfuls fresh green beans, rinsed and chopped in half
1/2 lb beets, tops removed and peeled
1 small head butter lettuce, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. Peel beets and chop into quarters. Set aside.

Boil pot of water over medium-high heat, add green beans. Boil green beans for 2-3 minutes, drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.

Place beets onto baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, add cannellini beans to baking sheet. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, until beets are fork-tender.

Meanwhile, combine green beans and butter lettuce in a bowl. When beets and white beans are done cooking, add to bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lemony Tofu and Kale Spaghetti
2-3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 block firm tofu, pressed and sliced
1 bunch kale (dino or curly), torn into bite-sized pieces
1 lemon

1 pack spaghetti (I used linguini), cooked

salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste

Cook pasta al dente according to directions, 7-8 minutes. [Don't forget to add salt to the pasta once boiling; I nearly had an Italian slap me because I confessed I never added salt while cooking pasta/spaghetti]. Slice half of the lemon thinly, reserve the other half to be juiced.

Warm 2 tbsp olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add garlic, sauteé for 30 seconds. Add tofu, cook for 5 minutes. Add sliced lemon pieces, cook for a few minutes. Add kale and sauteé for 2-3 minutes.

Drain pasta (don't rinse it!), add to pan with tofu and kale. Using tongs, toss and stir pasta in the pan. Add remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper pieces.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Another Day, Another Challenge

Another challenge! Oh boy oh boy. This one comes from The Post Punk Kitchen: Chopped Vegan. The requirements: create an entree using 4 mystery ingredients (black eyed peas, mint, blueberries, & chocolate) + whatever you have in your pantry.

The ingredients were announced last week, and of course I took my sweet time wondering whether or not I even had the time to create a new dish, let alone go grocery shopping for the mystery ingredients.

Later this week during my bike ride home from work, I stopped at a small grocery store in the Mission. While browsing the aisle for Sriracha (the time had come for a new bottle), I came across dried black eyed peas. I figured, why the hell not? and grabbed them. Finding all of the ingredients would be easy, deciding what to make would be a bit more difficult.

After wandering up and down the produce aisle that offered everything from watercress to dandelion greens to tomatillos, I decided on endive. The recipe forming in my head was more of an appetizer than an entree, but went with it anyway. 

My final answer: endive with black eyed peas, drizzled with a balsamic-chocolate-blueberry sauce topped with mint.

I returned to my house, hauling up a heavy backpack filled with more than enough ingredients required for this project of mine. Wanting to double check the requirements for the Chopped Vegan challenge, I discovered I had missed the deadline.

Oh well. I made the damned appetizer anyway, and it was rather delicious.

Of course I can never fall asleep without thinking about another recipe (does anyone else have this problem, or should I see a doctor?) and this one danced around my head for the rest of the night.

Black eyed pea fritters with a blueberry chocolate sauce for breakfast. And potatoes, of course. God forbid I consume a meal that doesn't have any carbohydrates!

So I awoke the next morning and made these. Because I'm crazy and spend my free time cooking instead of doing laundry or other important things.

Black Eyed Pea Fritters with Blueberry Chocolate Sauce
1 cup black eyed peas, cooked
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/3 cup warm water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 - 2 tbsp flour
salt & pepper

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil for frying

1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 tsp sugar
2 squares dark chocolate

fresh mint

Chop about 1/2 cup black eyed peas in food processor until fine. Place blended and remaining whole peas in medium sized bowl, stir to combine. Add in scallions.

Add ground flax seed to warm water, mix thoroughly. Add apple cider vinegar and stir, set aside for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place blueberries in a small saucepan. Smash with a wooden spoon and sprinkle sugar on top. Let sit for a few minutes, so the juice is drawn out from the berries.

Back to the fritters: stir the flax seed mixture to combine, add to peas. Mix to incorporate, until beans are sticking together. Add in flour 1 tbsp at a time, stirring to combine and making sure the mixture will hold. Heat pan with cooking oil over medium low heat. 

Now make the blueberry sauce: turn saucepan with blueberries to medium. Stir frequently, making sure the sauce doesn't burn. Once blueberries have turned into jam-like substance (5-7 min), turn off heat. Add in chocolate squares, stir to combine once chocolate begins melting. Set aside.

Using a soup spoon, scoop out small portions of fritter mixture (golf ball sized). Lightly roll between your palms, then place into warmed pan. Press down slightly to flatten fritters. You can place fritters about 1/2 inch away from one another in the pan. Fry for about 5 minutes, then flip. Cook for another 5 minutes, until golden-brown.

Serve topped with blueberry chocolate sauce and garnish with fresh mint leaves. Add a side of potatoes too, you know you want to. And don't forget the Sriracha.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Vegansaurus Challenge

Vegansaurus, although I am late to the game I accept your challenge.

I tried beet greens for the first time! I was never a fan of beets when growing up (but then again, who is?). My mom always provided me with the freshest fruits and vegetables, but somehow she was partial to canned beets. Maybe in the same twisted sense that I have a weak spot for canned cranberry sauce.

Anyway, never having consumed fresh beets meant no beet greens. What a deprived childhood I had.

At my local farmers' market in Upper Haight, fresh beets caught my eye. I searched through the pile for ones with the prettiest, leafiest greens. I'm sure the cashier was confused as to why I was focusing on the greens rather than the beets themselves, but then again there's weirder things Haight Street has seen.

I followed instructions I found online: wash the greens and snap off the stems. Blanch, rinse, and chop. Peel and quarter the beets, roast in the oven for a while.

Figuring beet greens were similar to kale or chard, I decided to pair them with lentils for a fresh salad.

Mmm. Fresh roasted beets and leafy greens, you are my new favorite. And this salad too, it comes together quickly and easily once everything is prepped.

Beet Greens, Lentil, and Beet Salad
1 bunch fresh beets, greens attached
1 cup green lentils

3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring large pot of water to boil for blanching.
Separate leafy tops from beets, discard stem. Rinse beets and greens thoroughly.
Trim and stem beets, then peel and quarter them. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, or on a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with one or two tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. If baking on aluminum foil, place another sheet over it to cover, wrap closed. Bake for 30-35 minutes, occasionally turning beets if on baking sheet.

Meanwhile, place the greens in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain in colander and immediately rinse thoroughly with cold water. Alternately, you could dump into a bowl with ice water once drained to stop the cooking. Once cooled, chop the greens into bite-sized pieces.

Rinse and pick through lentils, add to 3 cups of water in small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes.

Once the lentils and beets are finished, combine everything in a bowl. Drizzle remaining olive oil, dress with balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. Make any additions you feel necessary; perhaps a squeeze of lemon or a dash of red chili flakes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spring (Summer) Rolls

For Paola's "Last Supper" in San Francisco, a few of her friends and I cooked dinner together in a cozy house Sunset house.

Christina wanted to make inarizushi, a Japanese sushi that consists of tofu skins soaked in soy sauce and stuffed with rice and carrots. I was ashamed to admit that I did not have enough ingredients for a proper Japanese meal, so I settled with spring rolls stuffed with edamame, somen noodles, napa cabbage, and carrots. Close enough.

Christina and Tatiana assembled the inarizushi while I prepped the spring rolls. In passing, Christina noted that there were a few avocados that needed to be used. While my spring rolls were already an aberration, I decided a slice or two of avocado wouldn't hurt.

The recipe provided below is what I made for the dinner, and can be improved upon or changed with the addition of tofu, mushrooms, omission of edamame or somen. Get creative!

Spring (Summer) Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce

10 napa cabbage leaves, chopped
2 carrots, julienned
1 cup of edamame, shelled
1 avocado, sliced
4 oz cooked somen noodles
2 tbsp rice vinegar
rice paper

Peanut Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 inch ginger, grated

Prep all veggies. When boiling somen noodles, note that they cook quickly and (unlike typical pasta/noodles) it's encouraged to rinse the noodles with cold water once they've been drained.

Mix together ingredients for peanut sauce, taste and adjust to your liking.

Dip rice paper into warm water, place on large flat surface. Arrange small handful of somen noodles, veggies, avocado, and few sprigs of cilantro on top. Wrap & roll! Set aside and continue making spring rolls.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Paola's Famous Enchiladas

Hello, it's been a while. Did we think we'd forgotten about you?

Because we did. Our apologies. We've been busy.

Paola was accepted into Portland State's graduate program for urban planning, while Kelly has been working as an intern for a San Francisco supervisor. Between working 2+ jobs and/or planning for a new life in a different state, it's been hectic.

Don't worry! We're still cooking.

Recently we took a breather in the beautiful town of Santa Cruz. A day away from the city, basking in the sun (no fog?) on a riverbank. Loafing around town, drinking fresh kombucha and being hauled around by a large dog. This is the life.

We demanded Paola's delicious enchiladas for supper. Earlier in the month she had served us enchiladas stuffed with onion, mushrooms, carrots, and poblano pepper, topped with salsa verde and cilantro. They disappeared quickly.

Unfortunately, poblano peppers are hard to find while on "vacation".  We had to improvise.

After much debate, Paola decided on using kidney beans. And no one questioned it.

We stuffed ourselves with homemade guacamole while Paola prepared the enchiladas. We were so hungry, no one cared to take photographic evidence of the goodness we were consuming.

But Kelly decided to share the recipe to those who were not fortunate enough to witness the construction of these delicious enchiladas. Feel free to riff on ingredients, it's all about the quality of ingredients and preparation.

Paola's Famous Enchiladas

9x13 glass baking dish

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
10 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 jalapeño pepper, diced
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper, to taste

2 jars salsa verde (we used Trader Joe's variety)
1 jalapeño pepper, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
handful of cilantro, chopped

2 packs good quality tortillas

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Sauteé onion and garlic in olive oil in a pan over medium heat, 5 min. Add mushrooms, sauteé another 10 minutes, until mushrooms have released their juices. Add jalapeños, stirring occasionally.
Add in kidney beans, stir to combine and let heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste, lower heat.

Combine salsa verde, jalapeño, and garlic in small pot over medium low heat. Stir occasionally, add cilantro when warmed through.

Microwave tortillas for a few seconds (or warm over gas stove). Scoop portion of bean mix into tortilla, wrap and place in baking dish. Repeat until bean mix/tortillas are gone. Top with salsa verde sauce.

Garnish with sliced onion and jalapeño, if desired.

Bake for 5-10 min, until enchiladas are warmed through.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don't have to tell you that chocolate chip cookies are a classic. Everyone loves them, gets all nostalgic thinking about their childhood cookies, admits to having baked store bought slice-and-bake Tollhouse cookies. They were the first cookies I ever baked, and boy was that a disaster.

They definitely didn't look like this. Nor did they taste as amazing. How could I mess up something as simple as a freaking chocolate chip cookie? I gave up on baking.

Then I began working retail at a cupcake bakery, where my new hobby quickly became asking the bakers every other day why my previous attempts at baking had fallen flat. After scolding me for creating baking "shortcuts", they gave me a few tips:

1. Cream the butter/oil with the sugar first. Do it. Make sure it's nice and incorporated, you don't want buttery streaks in your cookies. Also, don't cheat and nuke the butter when the recipe clearly states: room temperature. It will cause your cookies to spread!
2. Add in the flour last and don't over-mix! Glutens start to set when flour is added to the rest of the ingredients, and over-mixing will give you a dry, tough cookie.
3. Don't open the oven frequently. The heat escapes, causing your cookies to take longer to bake!
4. Be patient. As tempting as it is, don't immediately eat that delectable creation you just pulled out of the oven. Again, with the glutens: they have to set. Patience, young padawan.

Your cookie dough should aspire to look like this! I decided it was time for a cookie lesson post while making chocolate chip cookies at a friend's house; they were expressing dismay over less-than-perfect cookies they had baked a few weeks prior. Admitting they threw all the ingredients together at once, I knew I had to pass on the baking wisdom. And without further ado...

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Isa's recipe
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup almond milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two large light metal baking sheets.

In a large bowl, mix together sugars and oil. I whisk them with a fork until completely integrated. Add in milk, vanilla and stir to combine well.

Add the flour, the baking soda and salt. Fold with a spatula, making sure to not over-mix. Fold in the chocolate chips, oatmeal and cinnamon. Again, don't over-mix!

Using a tablespoon, scoop the dough and roll into ping pong ball sized balls. Place on a baking sheet and remember they will spread, so don't plop them too close to one another. Bake for about 8 - 9 minutes, until they are just a little browned around the edges. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. Indulge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sandwiches: Condiment Love

I've recently been a fan of making my own condiments: vegan cream cheese, pesto, applesauce, anything. It goes along with my pledge to eat as sustainably as possible; most vegan substitutes rely heavily on manufactured ingredients, hydrogenated oils, and palm oil. Kenji from Serious Eats beautifully expresses my philosophy on faux meats in an article here.

But enough with the banter and linkage, you guys didn't come here to be lectured.

Displayed above is the result of my experimentation. Artisan sourdough (from the talented Josey Baker), smothered with kale walnut pesto, tofu cream cheese, and tomato jam. Layered on top is a roasted red pepper, spinach, and marinated tofu.

I'm still perfecting the cream cheese and tomato jam recipe, but I'm pretty proud of my pesto. If there's anything I like more than sandwiches, it's garlic. What's that recipe? You call for 2 cloves of garlic? That's cute, I'm adding in 4. No overrated vampire 'dreamboat' will approach me now!

I digress. The pesto recipe below was passed on to me from a neighbor who made batches of fresh pesto and always called on me to taste test. Although I was young, I remember always joking with him, saying it needed more garlic. The best part of the recipe (aside from the ridiculous amount of garlic it contains) is that it's easily adaptable with any green (arugula, cilantro, beet tops) or nut (walnuts, almonds). Pine nuts are expensive and I'm cheap, so I am fond of walnuts in my kale pesto.

Not-For-The-Faint-of-Heart Kale Pesto
adapted from George's Basil Pesto and Isa's Bestest Pesto recipes

1/2 cup walnuts
16 medium cloves of garlic
2/3 tsp coarse salt
3 cups fresh kale
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 cup olive oil (or 1/4 olive oil, 1/4 water)
1 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice

Toast the walnuts in a skillet for about 10 minutes, until slightly browned.

Transfer to a food processor. Add in garlic and salt, then process.

Add kale using repeated pulses to mince. Add olive oil and nutritional yeast and pulse to combine. Slowly add in olive oil and lime/lemon juice, pulsing in between. Process for one minute, do not over-process. Pesto should have a somewhat gritty texture.

Pour into a glass jar and seal mixture. It can be covered with a thin layer of olive oil to retard discoloring. Will keep a week in the refrigerator or can be frozen.