Sunday, February 26, 2012

Molecular Vegan: Scallops with Carrot-Ginger Caviar

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Ever since I made vegan ricotta, I've been a little obsessed with molecular cooking techniques and methods. Because of its formidable ability to transform textures, flavors and shapes, molecular cooking methods have an endless potential to offer to vegan cuisine. This is my first attempt at spherification, using sodium alginate mixed with a carrot-ginger infusion, which was slowly dropped into a calcium chloride solution to form tiny, springy, bright orange caviar. Applied atop some vegan scallops, this is both a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
One piece of ginger (about the size of your thumb), peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 -1 cup cold water (for thinning out the juice)
2 grams sodium alginate
500 grams cold water
2.5 grams calcium chloride
2 TB Earth Balance
1 jumbo-sized king oyster mushroom, sliced and marinated in a bit of vegetable broth for a few hours
fennel fronds, for garnish (optional)

Place the carrots and ginger into a blender and pulverise well. Add in enough water to make the carrot-ginger mixture equal 300 grams. Blend again, strain out the pulp with a strainer (or you can conversely use a juicer or prepared juice). Measure again, and add a little more water if needed so the liquid equals exactly 250 grams and place in the refrigerator for about an hour so all of the air settles out of the mixture. Once the carrot-ginger mixture has settled, slowly whisk in 2 grams of the sodium alginate. Place into a small squeeze bottle.

Place the 500 grams of water into a wide, shallow bowl. Using a whisk, dissolve in the calcium chloride. Using the squeeze bottle, slowly drop the juice into the bowl to form tiny spheres. Once all of the juice has been used, slowly tilt the bowl into a fine mesh strainer, then empty the caviar out onto some paper towels to drain.

Melt the Earth Balance in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the marinated mushrooms into the skillet and saute for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until a slight char is achieved. Top the scallops off with some of the caviar and garnish with fresh fennel fronds, if desired.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cheesy Kale Chips

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I tried cheesy kale chips for the first time at the Organic Garden Cafe in Beverly, Massachusetts and was instantly smitten with their faux-cheese taste and crispy-chewy texture. The method and ingredients used to create the coating on these chips are simple: a raw cashew base is blended with roasted red peppers, nutritional yeast, a bit of raw tahini and salt, then applied to the kale. A dehydrator then transforms that viscous coating dramatically, giving it a smooth melt-in-your-mouth texture, which perfectly compliments the developed crispiness of the kale.

Large bunch of curly kale, washed and dried very well
1 cup soaked raw cashews, soaked in water overnight, then rinsed and drained
7 oz. prepared roasted sweet red peppers
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2-3 TB raw tahini
1 tsp coarse sea salt

Remove the kale leaves from the ribs, and rip into pieces. Set aside.

Placed the soaked cashews into a small food processor and blend until smooth. Add in the remaining ingredients, then blend well again. Coat the kale pieces with the cheese mixture as desired. (I was very heavy-handed with the coating on these, which just covered the entire bunch of kale. If you would like a lighter coating, you can cut the coating ingredients in half.)

Place the smothered kale into a food dehydrator at 130 degrees for 9-10 hours, or until a desired crispiness is reached.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Breakfast Quinoa with Toasted Coconut and Pistachios

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Packed with protein, calcium and iron, quinoa makes an incredibly filling breakfast. I especially love it smothered in a combination of Earth Balance, toasted coconut, cardamom and pistachios—which provides the right amount of richness to perfectly compliment quinoa's uniquely light and fluffy texture. This recipe is perfect for a workday breakfast, and makes enough to last throughout the entire week.  

2 cups water
1 cup organic quinoa, rinsed in a fine mesh strainer
1-2 TB Earth Balance
1-2 TB raw agave
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsweetened and shredded coconut
coconut or almond milk, to serve

Place the water and quinoa in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cover and allow to cook for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Allow it to remain in the pot covered for an additional 5-10 minutes.

Remove the lid. It should now fluff easily when stirred with a fork. Add in the Earth Balance, agave, cardamom and salt. Lightly toast the coconut in a small pan over medium heat for about a minute. To serve, sprinkle with some of the toasted coconut, pistachios and a splash of vegan milk.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Galangal Tofu with Lemongrass-Scented Broth

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This past weekend, I cleaned out my freezer and discovered several containers of frozen homemade stock lurking in the very back, alongside a full bag of hollow lemongrass husks, which I usually use to make tea. As I removed them from the freezer to thaw, I decided I'd combine the two to make a delicate and flavorful broth for a noodle dish. Light and delicate, yet rich and savory, this is the perfect base for any asian-style noodle dish. Although there is a lot going on in this bowl, the star here is the broth—besides the tofu and soba noodles, all of the other components are nice, but not necessary.

for the tofu
1 block of tofu, pressed and cut into triangles
3/4 cup mirin
1 TB prepared galangal root
1 TB soy sauce

for the broth
small piece of ginger, about the size of your thumb, cut into thin matchstick-sized pieces
5-6 cloves of garlic, sliced

4-6 cups of homemade stock
4-6 lemongrass stalks, hearts removed and reserved
1-2 frozen cubes of vegan fish sauce (optional)
2 TB soy sauce
1 TB sugar

optional components to add
cooked soba noodles
gently sauteed and sliced lemongrass hearts
sliced carrots
sliced scallions
raw kale

shallots, gently sauteed
dried shiitake caps, soaked in hot water for about 10 minutes
fresh cilantro

In a shallow glass pyrex dish, combine the mirin, galangal and soy sauce. Place the well-pressed tofu into the marinade, flip to ensure a good coverage of marinade, and place in the refrigerator for a few hours.

To make the broth, start by gently sauteing the ginger and garlic in a bit of oil in a medium-sized sauce pan for about 5 minutes
over medium-low heat. Add in the stock, hollow lemongrass husks, vegan fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Stir well. Increase the heat to medium, and immediately dial it back to low once it starts to simmer.

To make the tofu, heat a bit of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the tofu and saute on each side for about 7 minutes, of until well-browned. Remove the lemongrass husks, then ladle the soup into bowls, top with tofu, and finish with whatever optional components you want.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

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When I discovered the magical thing that happens when coconut milk and vinegar are combined with agar, I was instantly eager to try it out in a macaroni and cheese dish. Once I created the coconut base for this, I began to add in other elements to give it a "cheddar" appearance and smoky essence, which resulted in a cheese with a fantastic aroma, melty texture and a superior depth of flavor. This version of macaroni and cheese is also soy- and nut-free, and requires only a minimal amount of added oil.

One can of full-fat, good-quality coconut milk
1/2 tsp coconut vinegar
2/3 tsp salt
1 tsp agar powder
a few dashes of liquid smoke
1/4 tsp turmeric (for color)
a few dashes of white pepper
1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 cup of uncooked pasta of your choice (I used bowtie)
1 tsp olive oil
2 shallots, minced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1/8 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
dried parsley

Heat the coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk until well-emulsified. Add in the vinegar, salt and agar and whisk continuously until it comes to a small boil. Continue to whisk at a small boil for about two minutes more and then remove from the heat. Add in the liuid smoke, turmeric, white pepper and smoked paprika and stir well. Pour the mixture into a shallow glass pyrex dish, cover with saran wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour to gel.

Boil the pasta in plenty of water according to the package instructions. While the pasta is cooking, saute the shallots and garlic in a bit of olive oil in a saute pan until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and add about half of it to the saute pan with the shallots and garlic. Grate the gelled cheese into the pasta and mix well, adding more cooked pasta as desired. Add in the nutritional yeast, if desired.

To serve, place the desired amount of macaroni and cheese into bowls. Toast a handful of the breadcrumbs in a dry pan for about a minute over medium heat. Sprinkle the pasta with the toasted breadcrumbs and finish off with some dried parsley.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Restaurant Review: Green Elephant, Portland, Maine

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Last weekend, we took a trip up to Portland, Maine, for a mini-getaway. Located about two hours north of Boston, Portland is filled with artsy shops, amazing used book stores and cozy restaurants. One of my favorite restaurants to go to is Green Elephant Bistro, which offers a menu that is exclusively vegetarian/vegan, featuring a variety of vegetables, noodles and mock meats delivered with an Asian-style look and feel. 

We visit the Green Elephant a few times a year, and it always proves to be an amazing experience each time we go. From the moment we walk through the doors, which reveal a sparse but warm decor, we've always been greeted by a friendly waiter or waitress, who has calmly guided us to one of their cozy, fresh-flower adorned tables. Polite, knowledgeable and flawless service is always accompanied by food that is either piping hot or crisp and cold—and always perfectly fresh. Here is a sampling of some of our favorite things from their lunch and dinner menus:

crispy wonton stuffed with soy cheese and spinach, served with a sweet chili sauce (vegan) $6

These wontons are served piping hot, fresh from the fryer. I love to rip them apart, exposing the steaming spinach and soy cheese center, and drenching it in the generous supply of sweet chili sauce. This sauce features a perfect balance of spicy and sweet, and is the perfect compliment to the fried wonton.

   green collard leaves wrap with mango and herbs, served with a tamarind dipping sauce (vegan) $8

The flavors in this simple raw wrap are amazing. Cooked collards are fantastic, but raw collards offer a completely new dimension in taste and texture. Inside each of the fabulously crisp collard leaves is a perfectly balanced blend of fresh mango, thinly sliced carrots, fresh mint, cilantro and red cabbage. Every flavor and component here is well-thought out, beautifully simple and presented in an artful way. Served with a simple tart tamarind sauce, this appetizer is a must-try.

king oyster mushroom tempura with scallions, salt and pepper (dinner item only, vegan) $8

All foods fried make a voice in my head go weeeeeeee!! I love this appetizer because I can tell whoever created and makes this has that same voice too. The batter on these mushrooms is perfectly seasoned and fried, and biting into them provides a perfect ratio of crunchy batter to soft and succulent king oyster mushroom pieces inside. Served with a delicate ponzu sauce, this is my favorite appetizer IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

spicy green leaves salad with spicy bean curd dressing, crispy tofu, topped with crispy rice noodles (vegan) $6

I don't want to make a very stereotypical vegan statement here, but this salad is amazing. Super-fresh and packed with tons of crisp carrots, tomatoes, tofu and noodles, it's the perfect dinner to enjoy after gorging on multiple appetizers. I love it that Green Elephant isn't stingy with any of their sauces, which allows for a liberal drenching over every inch of a dish.

chocolate-orange cheesecake (vegan) $7

  I don't remember what this dessert was called, but the taste was unforgettable. Decadent and rich chocolate is mingled here with a hint of orange zest that instantly melts in your mouth. Served with chocolate-covered fresh orange wedges on the side, this is a joyful, elegant and refreshing way to end your experience at Green Elephant. Desserts are rotated often at the restaurant, so you never exactly know what you are going to get.

fried doughnut holes with coconut ice cream (vegan) $8

Warm, fried doughnut holes. Next to slightly melty coconut ice cream. Sprinkled with nuts. I can't even compose a proper sentence in the presence of all this. Go to Green Elephant. Get this.

So there you have it. Whether or not you are vegan, Green Elephant will amaze you.
The food here reflects a unique passion for and deep understanding of vegan components, which is translated expertly into every aspect of its menu. I love seeing vegan establishments doing so well and Green Elephant is no exception—this place has always been packed with happy people every time we've stopped by. Support this great vegan establishment, get an amazing experience in return ... everybody wins!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Deep-Fried Vegan Ricotta Puffs

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Eatocracy's 5@5 recently listed a method for making vegan ricotta cheese using molecular gastronomy techniques, which immediately caught my attention for its simplicity, innovation and creativity. One can of coconut milk, a splash of coconut vinegar, a sprinkle of salt and some agar somehow all work together to produce a rich, creamy, mildly crumbly and very versatile dairy-free mozzarella/ricotta. This cheese would make a perfect ravioli filling, pizza topping or lasagna layer, but I decided I would deep fry it to see what would happen. When the coated ricotta hits hot oil it slightly melts, while the shell around it becomes puffy, crispy and airy. When removed from the oil, it still retains its original shape and flavor, and is lovely dunked into a simple marinara sauce.

One can of full-fat, good-quality coconut milk
1/2 tsp coconut vinegar
2/3 tsp salt
5 tsp agar flakes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 TB chickpea flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Ener-G, whisked with 5 TB water
oil for frying
marinara sauce, for serving

Heat the coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk until well-emulsified. Add in the vinegar, salt and agar and whisk continuously for five minutes. Increase the heat to medium and continue to whisk for five minutes more. By this time, it should be coming to a small boil. Continue to whisk at a small boil for about two minutes more and then remove from the heat. Pour the mixture into a shallow glass pyrex dish, cover with saran wrap, and place in the refrigerator overnight to gel.

Scrape the gelled mixture into a food processor and blend until it resembles a ricotta texture. Roll into golfball sized balls and place back into the refrigerator.

When you are ready to fry, combine the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, place the Ener-G/water mixture.

Heat plenty of oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Test the oil's readiness by inserting a wooden spoon into it—if bubbles form around the spoon immediately, you are ready to fry.

Dip the ricotta into the Ener-G mixture, then coat with the flour mixture. Slowly slide it into the oil and fry for about a minute and a half, in batches of two or three pieces. Remove and place on paper towels to drain. Serve immediately with the marinara sauce.