Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Black Lentil, Pistachio and Shiitake Mushroom Burger

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Most of the recipes on this blog are inspired by new-to-me ingredients or by a method I've seen on The Food Network. But sometimes I'm also inspired by bad food. Let me explain: last week, I went out to a restaurant and the only thing that was vegan on the entire menu was something called a beluga lentil burger with rice. It was hard, dry, tasteless and totally uninspired compared to the rest of the fantastic-looking dishes around me. It made me wonder why vegan options in some restaurants are conceived and executed with either little or no effort, or perhaps even with a slightly passive-aggressive attitude, or both.

Determined to make a better burger, I foraged through my cabinets this weekend and came up with this faux-meaty and sage-kissed patty. The addition of wheat gluten and shiitake caps here really gives the burger a unique bite, while the lentils and pistachios work well together to give it some bulk and good texture. Serve it alone or on a bun, and you'll have a nifty burger that is both simple to prepare and utilizes common vegan pantry items.

for the burgers
3 shallots, diced
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup black lentils, rinsed
5-7 dried shiitake mushroom caps
1/2 cup pistachios
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1 TB Ener-G, whisked with 1/8 cup water
2 tsp dried rubbed sage
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked pepper

for the fries
1-4 potatoes, peeled and thinly cut
vegetable oil, for frying

Bring three cups of water to a boil. While you are waiting for the water to heat up, throw the diced shallots into a separate saute pan with the oil and saute over low heat.

When the water starts to boil, add in the lentils and dried shiitake caps and place the cover over the pot so some steam can escape during cooking. Boil for 18-20 minutes, then pour them into a fine-mesh strainer to drain and cool. Once cooled, remove the shiitake from the lentils and dice them up, discarding the tough stems.

Place the pistachios into a food processor and coarsely grind them. By this time, your shallots should be nicely caramelized. Add the shallots, lentils, diced shiitake caps, pistachios and parsley to a large bowl and mix until well combined. Add in the vital wheat gluten and stir. Now add in the water/Energ-G mixture and stir for about two minutes with a strong fork to allow the gluten to develop. Now add in the sage and salt and pepper and stir until well combined.You can then either place the mixture in the refrigerator for a few hours or fry the burgers immediately.

To fry the burgers, shape them into patties, slightly squeezing the mixture together as you are shaping it. Fry in a saute pan with a little olive oil for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until it is slightly browned.

To make the fries, place several inches of vegetable oil in a medium-sized pot. Heat over medium high heat. After 7-8 minutes, drop a fry into the oil—if it sizzles immediately, you are ready to fry. Fry in small batches (do not overcrowd or the moisture/temperature of the fries will interfere will the oil temperature, resulting in soggy fries.) Fry until crisp, about 4-5 minutes and remove from the oil with heat-resistant tongs. Transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle immediately with a little salt.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Smoky Baba Ghanoush with Roasted Garlic

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Last night we pulled out the grill and dusted it off for the first time this season to roast some eggplant for making baba ghanoush. However, the propane tank was empty, so I decided to try grilling the eggplant directly over a gas stove flame instead. It worked like a charm, infusing a deep smokiness into the eggplant, which I enhanced a bit further by adding in some liquid smoke as well as a sprinkle of smoked paprika. This version of baba ghanoush is tahini-heavy and spiked with caramelized garlic oil with rich strands of roasted garlic throughout. It tastes amazing straight out of the food processor, but if you can wait a day or two for the flavors to really mingle, it becomes an even more richly complex yet delicately textured spread.

1 head of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium-sized eggplants
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
1 tsp cumin
smoked paprika
fresh cracked pepper
pita, tomatoes, chopped parsley, for serving

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Separate the cloves of garlic, but do not peel them. Place in a small glass pyrex dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover with foil and place in the oven to roast until caramelized and tender (anywhere from 30 minutes to 45 minutes).

Slice the top off of each of the eggplants and discard. Using an open gas flame, set the flame/heat level to medium and place one of the eggplants directly over that with heat-resistant tongs. Leave it there for 2-3 minutes—then turn to another side to char for 2-3 minutes more. Repeat this until all sides are charred. By this time, the eggplant will start to sputter slightly, but keep turning until the entire skin is completely charred and wrinkled. (It should take 13-15 minutes to achieve a good char all over.)

Place the eggplant on some absorbent towels to slightly drain while you prepare the second eggplant. When both eggplants are done, you can half them and scoop/scrape out the insides with a spoon, then discard the skins. Place the eggplant into a small food processor.

By this time, your garlic should be almost ready. Remove from the oven and remove the cloves to cool. Pour the rich and garlicky leftover oil into the food processor with the eggplant. Once the garlic is cooled, add it to the food processor, along with the next four ingredients. Blend until smooth.

You can either serve immediately or refrigerate for a day or two before serving.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Black Pepper and Thyme Crusted Tofu

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The last time I was in Maine, I picked up a bottle of espresso-infused balsamic vinegar at Leroux Kitchen in Portland. Instead of featuring the usual tang of balsamic, this vinegar has a deep and darkly complex quality—and combining that with a sweet and salty element results in a perfect marinade for tofu. (However, you can really use any kind of balsamic vinegar for this dish and it will still taste really good.) Besides looking really pretty and rustic, the finishing touch of dried thyme and freshly cracked black pepper and the end gives this balsamic tofu dish a subtle earthly feel as well as a slight and pleasant kick of heat.


for the tofu
1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 TB raw agave nectar
1 TB soy sauce
1 TB olive oil
1 block of tofu, pressed very well
a few dashes of liquid smoke (optional)
1-2 tsps dried thyme
1/2 tsp coarsely ground pepper

for the couscous
1 cup large-pearl couscous
1 1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
1 tsp salt
1 TB Earth Balance
1 TB olive oil
3-4 shallots, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
7-10 oil-cured olives, depitted and chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

In a large glass pyrex dish, combine the mirin, balsamic, agave, soy sauce and olive oil. Place the very-well pressed tofu into the dish, flip over once and place into the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours.

When you are ready to prepare the dish, place the couscous, broth or water, salt and Earth Balance into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover. Stir it every five minutes or so.

In a a separate skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add in the shallots and saute for about 10-12 minutes, or until nicely caramelized. Don't stir them during this time to allow a nice caramelization to develop. After 10-12 minutes, stir them around gently. Add the garlic on top of the shallots, so it will soften, but won't burn by making direct contact with the skillet. After 5-7 minutes, give everything a good stir. Add in the olives and parsley and stir to combine, and add this mixture to the cooked couscous, which should be ready by now.

You can now use this same skillet to sear your tofu. Gently place as many pieces as you can into the skillet and saute for 5-7 minutes. Flip the tofu over, and sprinkle with a generous amount of the thyme and black pepper. Continue to saute for 5-7 minutes more. Flip the tofu over again and add a bit more thyme and pepper, then add a few dashes of liquid smoke.

Serve immediately with the couscous and a side of some of the unused marinade.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lotus Root Tempura

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I didn't know much about the lotus root when I picked a couple of them up in Chinatown last week. As I was preparing this dish, I discovered that they are a: really pretty b: taste like a cross between a water chestnut and a potato and c: work wonderfully with tempura batter, because they are super-crunchy and don't mush up or wilt when plunged into super-hot oil. It doesn't really matter what kind of flour you use to make tempura—as long as all of the batter components are super-icy-cold and the lotus roots are sliced really thin, you'll end up with a light and crispy appetizer that is unique, nutritious and easy to make.

2 medium-sized lotus roots, cut into 1/8 inch or thinner slices
1/2 cup rice flour
2 TB cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp Ener-G
3/4 cup fizzy water (add a little more if needed to thin the batter out)
vegetable oil for frying
ponzu sauce or equal parts mirin and soy sauce, for serving

Heat several inches of oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. While you are waiting for your oil to heat, combine the rice flour, cornstarch and Ener-G in a shallow and wide bowl. Add in the fizzy water and gently whisk until well combined.

Test your oil by throwing a pinch of batter into it—if it sizzles immediately, you are ready to fry. Dip one of the lotus root slices into the batter, remove it, then hold it horizontally for a second or two to allow the batter to run through the holes in the lotus root.

Fry only one or two pieces of lotus root at a time until golden brown—about three minutes. If you make too many at once, the cold batter will reduce the oil of the temperature and you'll end up with soggy and oily tempura.

Place the fried tempura on paper towels to drain, and sprinkle with a bit of salt.

Serve it with ponzo sauce or make a similar sauce by combining equal parts mirin and soy sauce.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Spicy Jackfruit Salad

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I tasted jackfruit for the first time a few weeks ago, after I bought a can of it to make a vegan version of "pulled pork" barbeque. After a few hours in the crockpot, the jackfruit looked exactly like pulled pork, which I then smothered in a barbeque sauce and ate on a puffy white bun. It was okay, I just wasn't wowed. So I started to look for other ways to use jackfruit and was floored when I saw this lovely salad on foodgawker. I've never had Gỏi Mít Trộn (Vietnamese Young Jackfruit Salad), but was inspired to create a vegan version of it after seeing the photo and reading about the method and ingredients used to make it. I simply omitted the pork and shrimp, and used homemade vegan fish sauce, which I regularly make big batches of and freeze in ice cube trays, and then use as needed to make soups and satay sauce. This salad presents a nice balance of flavors and textures, and is perfect for enjoying during a warm day.

1 can of young green jackfruit in water (20 ounces)
5-6 cloves garlic, halved and sliced
1-4 small red chilis, sliced (use one-half of a chili or omit altogether if you don't like spice)
3 scallions, chopped (separate the white parts from the green parts)
1/8 cup vegan fish sauce
1/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 shallots, thinly sliced
vegetable oil, for frying
lime wedges and crushed peanuts, for serving

Rinse the jackfruit very well under cold water. Transfer to a small crockpot, cover with some water, and cook on low for 4-5 hours. Remove from the crockpot, then gently break it up with a fork. It should break apart very easily. Blot with some paper towels to ensure that the jackfruit is dried off very well. (I also placed it in a 250-degree oven for about 15 minutes to ensure it was dried enough, but I don't think this is absolutely necessary.)

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat. Throw in the chilis and saute for about a minute. Then throw in the white part of the chopped scallions and saute for about two minutes. Throw in the sliced garlic and saute for another minute or two, making sure that the garlic does not burn. Now add in the jackfruit and the vegan fish sauce and saute for about two minutes more. Remove from the heat to cool.

In another small saucepan, heat a few inches of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. After 5-7 minutes, your oil should be ready. Throw a shallot slice in—if it sizzles immediately, then throw the rest of the shallot slices in and fry for about 2-3 minutes. Remove with a skimmer and transfer to some paper towels to drain and cool.

Wait until everything has cooled down before you assemble your salad. Toss together the jackfruit and shallots, then throw in the green parts of the scallions, as well as the mint and cilantro.

Serve the salad topped with the crushed peanuts and lime wedges. Add a little more vegan fish sauce if desired.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ricotta-Stuffed French Toast with Salted Butterscotch Sauce

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This ricotta-stuffed french toast is a delicious, fabulous mess. I had never even heard of stuffing french toast with ricotta until last week, when I stumbled across an amazing picture of it on foodgawker. It looked so savory and sinful and, since I know how to make my own homemade vegan ricotta, was something that I had to try out. While this could be covered in a plain syrup or a chocolate drizzle and taste just fine, I decided to make a salted butterscotch sauce for it. The deep, buttery tones of butterscotch finished with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt complimented the savory and rich quality of the ricotta-stuffed french toast perfectly.

for the ricotta cheese
One can of full-fat, good-quality coconut milk
1/2 tsp coconut vinegar
1/2 TB sugar
2/3 tsp salt
1 tsp agar powder

for the french toast

Loaf of french or italian bread, sliced into 1-inch thick slabs and left out overnight to dry out
1 cup almond milk
1 cup coconut milk
3 TB chickpea flour
2 tsp Ener-G

for the salted butterscotch sauce
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 TB almond milk
2 TB coconut oil
1 1/2 TB Earth Balance
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp xantham gum (optional) If you don't have xantham gum on hand for this, don't buy it just for this recipe—without it, your butterscotch sauce will taste just fine—it will just be a little thinner.
Extra large-crystal salt, Earth Balance, powdered sugar and/or crushed nuts, for serving

Place all of the ricotta cheese ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk and heat until a small boil occurs, then remove from the heat and transfer to a small and shallow glass pyrex. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to prepare the french toast, combine the almond and coconut milk together in a large bowl. Add in the chickpea flour and Ener-G and whisk until well-combined.

Cut a slit in one the side of each of the french toast slices—through the crust—about halfway down and dig out a little bit of the bread in the middle, making sure you do not slice all the way through. Then throw the bread into the almond/coconut milk mixture and allow to soak for about 20 minutes.

To fry your french toast, heat a flat skillet over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes. While you are waiting for the pan to heat up, throw all of your butterscotch sauce ingredients into a small saucepan and heat over very low heat. Whisk every few minutes to combine and prevent scorching.

Remove one of the soaked bread slices from the bowl, spoon in a generous amount of the ricotta cheese mixture, with a little extra spilling out. Spray the pan with a little cooking spray, then place the stuffed french toast on the skillet. Don't touch it for about 5 minutes. Peek under one of the slices to check on browning—if it is a nice golden color, flip and saute the other side for about 5-7 minutes more.

Serve immediately with the butterscotch glaze, powdered sugar and nuts. Top with the large crystal salt.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Raw Collard Greens Sushi Rolls

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The other night, I was making some raw collard greens wraps for an appetizer before dinner, and decided to cut them like sushi before serving them. As my husband passed through the kitchen, he said the light was just right for a photo, and started snapping away and produced some really pretty photos of them. The combo of mint and cilantro inside of these tastes so clean and fresh, and eating these made me feel so healthy. Put whatever you want inside, use a sharp knife and dry everything off really well before assembling this and you'll have an impressive-looking appetizer that is easy to put together in minutes.

a few collard greens leaves (washed, deveined and dried really well)
Tofutti cream cheese or something similar-textured, like almond pate
fresh cilantro sprigs
Fresh mint, separated from the stems
carrots, thinly sliced
bell peppers, thinly sliced

Lay one half of a deveined collard green on a cutting board. Smear some of the Tofutti on the matte side, then lay some of the vegetables on the end closest to you. Then, tightly roll it away from you. Add a little bit of tofutti at the end to seal the sushi together if needed. Cut with a really sharp knife and serve immediately.