Sunday, April 29, 2012

Curried Chickpea and Onion Fritters

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Indian food is my nemesis. Don't get me wrong, I love all vegan Indian food—I'm just lousy at replicating it. More than once I've tried to replicate various dishes at home, but it always ends in disaster. I follow instructions exactly, use high-quality spices (and even the prepared ones that have everything mixed together for you with instructions) and BAM! instant straight-to-the-garbage-disposal-type failure. However, I've had vegetable pakoras on my mind lately after having some amazing ones at an Indian restaurant a few weeks ago and, given that pakoras are deep-fried, I decided to take a stab at recreating them at home. (Although I may be lousy at replicating Indian dishes, I do know a thing or two about deep-frying.)

Because the recipe below is far from an authentic Indian pakora recipe (I used bread flour, unsweetened almond milk and sriracha), I am calling these fritters instead. The sriracha and curry powder combo tastes heavenly together here and the fritters themselves are crispy, soft, savory, subtly spicy and completely addictive.

1 can of chickpeas, rinsed
1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped
half of a medium-sized red onion, chopped
1/2 cup bread flour
3 TB chickpea flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 1/2 tsp Ener-G
1 TB raw tahini
2 tsps curry powder
oil for frying
Equal parts Vegenaise and sriracha, mixed for the dipping sauce

Place half of the chickpeas into a bowl and roughly mash them with a fork. Add in the rest of chickpeas, parsley, chopped onion and the flours.

In a measuring cup, add the milk, Ener-G, tahini and curry powder. Whisk until well combined, then add to the chickpea mixture. Mix everything up, cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.

When you are ready to fry, place plenty of oil into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. After about 8-10 minutes, it should be ready. Throw a pinch of the batter into the oil—if it sizzles immediately, you are ready to fry.

Stir up your chickpea batter with a strong fork. Scrape out a bit of the batter, keeping a messy shape to it. Slowly slide it into the oil and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove with a heat-resistant slotted spoon or tongs and place on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle it with some salt immediately after taking it out of the oil.

To achieve crispy fritters, only fry one or two at a time—if you add to many, it reduces the temperature of the oil, leaving you with soggy and oily fritters.

Serve immediately with the sriracha-vegenaise sauce.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sweet Basil and Lemongrass Tea

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When I was in Chinatown this past week, I spotted tons of fresh sweet basil and bought a third of a pound of it for about two dollars. Even after making a big batch of basil and kale pesto, I still had quite a bit left over, so I decided to make some fresh tea out of the rest of the leaves. After placing a 1:8 ratio of the chopped basil leaves to simmering water, I added some leftover hollow lemongrass husks (which I always keep stocked away in the freezer) to the mix. I steeped for about 10 minutes (although you can steep for an hour or so), then strained the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. The end result was this earthy and lemon-scented tea with a beautiful light green color and smooth finish. Add some raw agave or sugar to sweeten, if desired.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Vegan Sushi: Faux-Roe Gunkanmaki with Pickled Daikon

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Biting into cooked amaranth tastes and feels very much like tobiko, or flying fish roe, which I used to eat a lot of at sushi restaurants several years ago. Making your own faux-roe out of this tiny, super-soft and silky pseudograin requires only a few ingredients and a little bit of time and effort to achieve. To develop its color, I boiled the amaranth in a super-concentrated beet base, and then soaked it further, which resulted in a perfect batch of deep crimson tobiko.

I then prepared the vegan tobiko in the way I used to enjoy it: gunkanmaki-style. This method requires no mat or rolling, and is very simple to assemble. The beets give the faux-roe a subtle sweetness which perfectly compliments the saltiness of soy sauce, the tartness of the vinegar in the rice and the briny, fishy taste of the roasted nori. Serve with a small bowl of pickled daikon on the side for a delicious, elegant, balanced and visually stunning sushi dish.

for the faux-roe
3 medium-sized beets, finely diced
4 cups water
OR one bottle of prepared beet juice, unsweetened, like Biotta
3/4 cup amaranth grain, rinsed

for the sushi
1 cup sushi rice, soaked for 30 minutes then rinsed well

2 cups water
1 TB rice vinegar
1 TB sugar
1/2 TB salt
nori sheets

for the pickled daikon
1/2 cup raw daikon, finely diced
1 tsp black sesame seeds
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp rice vinegar

If you are using prepared beet juice, skip to the next paragraph. If you are using fresh beets, place them with the water into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mash the beets with a potato masher, then strain. Reserve the beet pieces for pickling or roasting later.

Bring the beet juice to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add in the amaranth and whisk well. Boil, uncovered for about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. (The amaranth should be slightly al dente—do not overcook.)  Then, place the cooked amaranth with any leftover liquid into the refrigerator to cool and soak.

When you are ready to prepare the gunkanmaki, place the rice and water into a rice cooker. While it cooks and steams, combine the sugar, vinegar and salt in a separate glass bowl. Set aside.

Cut the nori sheets into 1 to 1 1/2 inch ribbons. Set aside. Toss all of the pickled daikon ingredients together and place into the refrigerator to chill.

Place a small strainer over a bowl. Take the faux-roe out of the refrigerator and spoon some of it into the strainer so it can drain slightly.

When your rice is ready, place it into the glass bowl and stir well. To assemble the gunkanmaki, keep a small bowl of water nearby. Dip your fingers into the water before handling the rice. Shape the rice into small oval shapes, about the size of your thumb. Then wrap one of the nori strips around that, securing the end with a little bit of water to seal it. Spoon some of the slightly-drained faux-roe over the top. Serve with soy sauce and the pickled daikon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vegan Queso Blanco Dip

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I often use canned coconut milk to introduce a subtly rich dimension into tomato sauces, broths and marinades. Due to its high-fat content, it adds a supreme richness without imparting any detectable coconut flavor into a dish. Ever since I discovered that adding just a bit of coconut vinegar to coconut milk creates an authentic mozzarella/stringcheese/ricotta flavor, I've been using it in different ways with fantastic results. My latest experiment yielded an amazing vegan queso blanco dip, which tastes exactly like the velvety and rich version you would get in a Mexican restaurant. Add chopped jalapeƱos, cilantro, cumin, salsa or onion as desired at the end, although it tastes fantastically cheesy and perfect on its own. Serve in a small crock pot set to warm to keep the texture silky and smooth.

I can of full-fat, good-quality coconut milk (I use Thai Kitchen brand)
1 tsp coconut vinegar*
1 tsp salt
1 TB tapioca flour
1/4 tsp agar powder

Place the coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until smooth. Add in the vinegar and salt and whisk for about a minute. Then add in the tapioca flour and agar, whisk, bring to a small boil, then reduce the heat to low. It should thicken very quickly. Leave over low heat and whisk occasionally for about seven minutes. Transfer to a small and warmed crock pot to serve.

*If you find the the queso still tastes a little coconut-y after it's been made, add in 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of coconut vinegar until the coconut taste is neutralized. Be careful when adding -- a little coconut vinegar goes a long way!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Steamed Tofu with Spicy Black Bean Sauce

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I love the pungent and sharp flavor of fermented black bean sauce. Because of its aggressive and viscous properties, it tastes amazing doused over another component with a neutral flavor and texture—like steamed tofu. If you don't have a steamer, you can fill a large saucepan with a few inches of water and place a slightly curved bowl of tofu right into it. Simply cover and steam to create the perfect vehicle for a rich and spicy black bean sauce. This dish is healthy, delicious and incredibly easy to make.

One block of soft tofu
1 TB toasted sesame oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 TB fresh ginger, minced
3 scallions, chopped (separate the white and green parts)
2 TB mirin
2 TB fermented black bean sauce
1 TB sriracha
1 TB sesame seeds

Place the whole block of tofu directly into a steamer or onto a slightly curved bowl. Fill the bottom of a large saucepan with a few inches of water and place the steamer or dish into it and cover. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and steam for 15-20 minutes. Resist the urge to remove the lid to check on it.

While the tofu is steaming, make your sauce. Heat the sesame oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, then add the garlic, ginger and white part of the scallions and saute for a minute or two, stirring to ensure the garlic does not burn. Deglaze the pan with the mirin, reduce the heat to low, then add in the black bean sauce and sriracha.

When your tofu is done, remove it from the saucepan. Place it on a dishtowel to slightly drain for a few minutes. You can gently press on the top to get a little bit of the water out, but you want to tofu to still have some moisture in it.

Place the tofu onto serving plates, drizzling the sauce over the top and sprinkling with the green parts of the scallion and sesame seeds.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Product Review: Vegan Calamari from Sophie's Kitchen

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Last month, Sophie's Kitchen asked me to do a product review of one of their seafood products, which are all konjac-based, vegan and soy free. I was happy to do a review, as I've tried several of their products already and love them for their originality, simplicity and eco-friendliness. Konjac root is a dense and chewy land-based product which is used commonly throughout Asia, and closely mimics calamari's texture, which makes it an excellent substitution for seafood like squid, shrimp and scallops. Here I've reviewed Sophie's Kitchen breaded calamari, and these are my thoughts:

Cost: An 8.8 ounce box of vegan calamari, which can be found in most Whole Foods freezer sections, runs about five dollars, and makes about three good-sized portions.

I have baked and deep fried the calamari. Baking results in a chewier texture of the root itself, but the outside doesn't crisp up very well. I highly suggest deep-frying, which puffs up and perfectly crisps the outside, while leaving the calamari succulent and chewy inside.

Konjac root, on its own, has almost no calories and is very high in fiber. The breading adds a little added fat and sodium, if you are into tracking that kind of thing.

Allergens: All Sophie's Kitchen products are vegan, soy-free, and non GMO. Their non-breaded products are completely gluten free and low in calories.

Interested in learning more? Go to, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

I really love Sophie's Kitchen's philosophy, dedication to sustainability and innovation. Their products are reasonably priced, generally easy to find and, most of all, taste terrific.