Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spiced Taro Root Wontons with Salted Coconut Cream

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These deep-fried lovelies are packed with rich and creamy taro root and mixed with a vibrant five-spice powder, a combination that I've used before and love. To make these more dessert like, I've added in a generous amount of raw agave, some shredded coconut and topped with large crystal and powdered sugars. Served with a side of lightly salted coconut cream, this is a decadent and perfectly balanced dessert.

for the filling
1/2 cup taro root, cubed
1/4 tsp five-spice powder
2 TB raw agave syrup
2 TB unsweetened shredded coconut
vegan wonton wrappers

for the topping
1 TB large crystal sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

for the cream
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/8 tsp salt

Place some water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Place the cubed taro root in the water and boil, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Drain and place into a small bowl, and mash the taro with a strong fork. Add in the spice, agave and coconut and combine well. Set aside and allow to slightly cool.

Assemble your wontons.

Place plenty of oil into a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. After about 7 minutes, insert a wooden spoon into the oil so it touches the bottom of the pan. If bubbles form around the spoon immediately, you are ready to fry.

Working in batches, place one to two wontons into the pan at a time and fry until golden brown, no more than two minutes. Flip them over halfway through the fry time to ensure all parts get crisped.

Remove them from the oil with tongs and place on paper towels. Sprinkle immediately with the large crystal salt and cinnamon mixture, while the oil is still wet.

Serve immediately with the salted coconut cream on the side.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gingerade Kombucha Caviar

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A few months ago, I tried spherification for the first time using sodium alginate mixed with juice, which I slowly dropped into a calcium chloride solution to form tiny, springy, bright orange caviar. It was a tricky process because molecular cooking requires exact ratios and measurements by weight—and any mistakes or miscalculations can result in an end product that is totally unusable. For example, the first time I made this caviar, pictured above, the kombucha-agar solution was slightly too warm and all of the caviar melted together, producing one big blob. For this reason, I find molecular cooking to be a huge challenge, but one that is also the most rewarding at the end if done correctly. This experiment (eventually) yielded a very subtly sweet faux caviar that went well with the saltiness of soy sauce, but the texture here was the most prominent feature—these were silky, soft and smooth and complimented the texture of the rice perfectly. Method adapted from Introduction to Molecular Gastronomy insert included in Molecular Tools by

for the sushi
1/2 cup sushi rice, soaked for 30 minutes then rinsed well

1 cup water
1/2 TB rice vinegar
1/2 TB sugar
1/4 TB salt
nori sheets

for the caviar
1/2 cup Kombucha Gingerade
2 grams agar powder
enough vegetable oil to fill a tall beer glass

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.

Pour the oil into a tall beer glass, so it is filled 3/4 full. Place in the freezer to chill for 30-45 minutes. 10 minutes before you take the glass out of the freezer, combine the kombucha and agar in a small saucepan. Whisk until combined and bring to a small boil. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool slightly, until it's slightly warmer than room temperature.

Fill a pipette or squeeze bottle with the kombucha and slowly drop it into the very cold oil. The reason you use a tall glass is so it gives the kombucha a few seconds to firmly gel before it hits the bottom of the glass.

To remove the caviar from the oil, pour it over a fine mesh strainer and store the oil to reuse in another application later (this should not affect the taste of the oil). The caviar will be quite sturdy if done properly. Rinse with a little cold water and set aside.

Cut the nori sheets into 1 to 1 1/2 inch ribbons. Set aside.

When you are ready to assemble the sushi, place the cooked rice into the glass bowl and combine. Run your hands under some 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 kombucha caviar on the top. Serve with soy sauce.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Homemade Basil and Garlic Oil

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To make a basil oil that not only tastes good, but also retains its vibrant green hue requires repeated steps of blanching and shocking to prevent a noticeable breakdown of the chlorophyll in the basil. Blanching initially intensifies the green color, and shocking halts oxidation from occurring—which would transform the vibrant green color into a dull green or yellowish hue. This is a really simple and good way to use up any extra basil you may have, as well as the flavorful stems, which are typically discarded due to their tough and inedible texture.


1:3 ratio of basil leaves/stems, separated and a good-quality olive oil
garlic cloves, smashed (optional)

Add plenty of ice to a large steel prep bowl. Add in some cold water to create an icy bath.

Bring a salted pot of water to a boil. Throw in the basil stems and blanch for 2-3 minutes. Remove the stems from the water and place in the ice bath. Now add the leaves to the boiling water and blanch for 20 seconds. Remove from the water and add the leaves to the ice bath. Discard the boiling water.

Dry the leaves and stems very well with towels and place in a blender. Puree for one to two minutes with the olive oil, then place the puree back into the pot and heat for 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat, adding in the smashed garlic if desired. Remove from the heat and place the entire pot in the ice water bath. Stir vigorously to cool the mixture down.

Transfer the mixture to a container and place in the refrigerator for 1-2 days to allow the flavor to develop. Then strain the mixture through a fine sieve and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will become butter-like in texture once chilled, but will melt very easily once exposed to room temperature. After a week, place in the freezer and use as needed in sauces and marinades or as a spreading for bread.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oyster Mushroom Wonton and Lemongrass Soup

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I love oyster mushrooms for their elegance, silkiness and buttery quality, but never splurge on them because they are obscenely expensive at Whole Foods. So when I spotted some comparably cheap and fresh oyster mushrooms in Chinatown this past week, I picked up a ton of them. Because oyster mushrooms rarely make their way into my kitchen, I wanted to try to use them in a unique way, applying a method I've never tried before, and the word wonton somehow surfaced in my brain. A soup suddenly became a good idea, and just right for the mid-50s weather we had in Boston on Saturday. Making these wontons turned out to be a great way to encase the oyster mushrooms and this savory and slightly tangy lemongrass broth perfectly complimented their flavor and texture.

for the wontons
4 cups oyster mushroom caps, roughly chopped (reserve the inedible tough stems for making stock later)
2 TB Earth Balance
vegan wonton wrappers

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 chopped
1-2 frozen cubes of vegan fish sauce (optional)
2 TB soy sauce
1 TB sugar
chopped green onions, for serving

To make the wonton filling, saute the mushroom caps in the vegan butter for a few minutes over medium heat. Place the mushrooms over a strainer and press on it to drain most of the moisture out. When you are ready to assemble the wontons, follow these seven steps for folding wonton dumplings.

To make the broth, start by gently sauteing the ginger, garlic and lemongrass hearts 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 and allow to simmer over the lowest heat possible for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard the lemongrass husks and increase the heat to medium. Once it is at a very low boil, drop in the wonton dumplings, making sure not to overcrowd the saucepan with them. If the boil increases at all, dial down the heat a bit to ensure the boil stays consistent. After three to four minutes, remove the dumplings and place them in serving bowls. Repeat the process until the dumplings have been prepared, then ladle the hot soup over them.

Sprinkle with the green onion and serve immediately.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to Fold a Wonton Dumpling

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In preparation for making wonton soup this weekend, I looked at a few YouTube videos for instructions on how to fold a wonton dumpling. Although there are several methods and techniques, I found them to be a little confusing because folding was done right in the palm of the hand, which I could not replicate. So I finally stopped trying to fold the wontons that way and instead folded them directly on a wooden cutting board, which made the process much easier. Following is the method I used for folding wonton dumplings—once you assemble the first one correctly, you'll fly through the rest of them in minutes.

Step One: Lay one wonton skin on a flat surface.

Step Two: Place a teaspoon of filling into the center of the wonton skin.

Step Three: Dip your finger into a bowl of water and run it along the sides and edge closest to you to help create a seal.

Step Four: Fold the skin in half, pressing out any air pockets that may have formed.

Step Five: Place a dab of water on the left-hand bottom corner.

Step Six: Now fold the wonton over again, by lifting up the side that is closest to you and folding it away from you. Don't take your pinched fingers off the sides.

Step Seven: Now connect the corner you just dabbed water on to the underside of the corner to the right by bringing up both sides in an arc motion. Press it together firmly to seal it.

You should now have an adorable wonton staring back at you:

Place the assembled wontons onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat, making sure they are not touching each other. Place into the freezer for an hour or two, then transfer to a ziploc bag and keep in the freezer until ready to use. There's no need to defrost the wonton before boiling.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chocolate-Cardamom Chia Pudding

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If you were around in the 80's, you probably mixed chia seeds in water and applied them to a terra cotta Chia Pet at some point, and watched as it grew an alfalfa-like carpet of fur. Fun! Fast forward 20+ years and chia seeds have made a resurgence as a superfood, along with amaranth and quinoa, and marketed as an "ancient grain." Rewind to pre-Columbian times, when chia was likely first established as a major food crop grown in Mexico and Guatemala, and it was widely used to make pinole, a porridge-like meal that was nutritious, filling and traveled well. Because chia seeds contain a high amount of soluble fiber and fatty acids, they expand almost immediately when immersed in liquid, and transform into a gel-like liquid in a short amount of time. This same concept is currently being replicated throughout the US, where chia pudding and porridge are not only convenient and easy meals, but also packed with nutrition and boast other health benefits. I've recently begun mixing chia seeds with Vega shakes in the morning, which bulk up during my morning commute to work, and transforms into a perfect tapioca-like breakfast by the time I start my day.

3 cups of almond, hemp or flax milk
1 scoop of Vega chocolate powder
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
2/3 cup chia seeds

Place all of the ingredients except for the chia seeds in a blender. Blend for a minute, then add in the chia seeds. Pulse a few times, then transfer the mixture to an airtight container. Allow the chia seeds to expand for about 30 minutes. The mixture can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Vegan Panna Cotta with Brown Sugar Sauce

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This is a luscious, creamy and buttery dessert that's also ridiculously easy to make. There is a perfect balance of rich, salty, sweet and savory here and the texture is beautifully silky and smooth. Although I've topped it off here with a vegan butter and brown sugar sauce, any kind of sauce or fruit and any flavor can be used or infused into the panna cotta itself during the very minimal five-minute cook time.

1 can of full-fat coconut milk
1 tsp powdered agar
1/4 tsp salt
1 TB raw agave
1 tsp organic liquid lecithin
2 TB Earth Balance
1 TB brown sugar

Place the coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until well emulsified and bring to a small boil. Add in the agar, salt and agave and whisk for about 2 minutes. Add in the lecithin, whisk again, and remove from the heat. Pour into ramekins with lids or custard cups (grease with a little cooking spray or brush with oil first) and place in the refrigerator to gel overnight.

To serve, slide a knife around the panna cotta, then place a plate on top of it. Flip it upside-down to release the panna cotta onto the plate.

In a small cast-iron pan, heat the vegan butter and brown sugar over medium-low heat until it starts to slightly caramelize. Drizzle the sauce over the panna cotta and serve immediately.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tea-Smoked Lychees from Herbivoracious

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I recently made this lovely and strange one-bite appetizer from Michael Natkin's newly released cookbook, Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes. Natkin's wildly popular blog, Herbivoracious, is filled with some similar unique and ingenious array of recipes and this cookbook is an inspired extension of that. I first noticed Michael's work on TasteSpotting with this gorgeous Seared Watermelon photo and have been a fan ever since. I love his idea of manipulating and transforming fruits and vegetables into something entirely new with a slightly exotic look and feel, and this tea-smoked lychee recipe is a great example of that approach. Topped with a pinch of raw grated ginger and steamed with some earthy tea, this method creates a soft, smoky and tangy one-bite appetizer—and is just one fabulous recipe and method among many in this new and exciting cookbook.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Spork-Fed  Cookbook Review and Giveaway! [Closed]

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The lovely folks over at Nasoya sent me a copy of Spork-Fed: Super Fun and Flavorful Vegan Recipes from the Sisters of Spork Foods, by Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg, and have offered to give an additional copy (plus some extra schwag) to one lucky reader of this blog! Jenny and Heather are also the owners of Spork Foods, a gourmet vegan food company based in Los Angeles, and also conduct healthy-eating consultations, teach vegan cooking classes and give private cooking lessons.

The first few things I noticed when I opened the cookbook were:

  • the photos. There are lots of them, and they are all beautifully arranged and shot.
  • the ingredients. Very simple, non-fussy and well-varied. Gluten-free or gluten-free optional recipes are all clearly marked.
  • the content. Each recipe has a "Sporkie Scoop"—some factoid about an ingredient used as well as a snippet about its nutritional value.
  • the simplicity. All of the prep and methods in this cookbook are very simple, yet yield impressive-looking and tasty end products.

I had a hard time deciding which recipe I wanted to make first. Would it be the seitan wellington, miso-glazed eggplant, spicy corn fritters with lemongrass or the cinnamon-scented tiramisu? While the options are well-varied and numerous (there are more than 75 recipes included), I ended up choosing to make their tofu satay with a decadent peanut sauce first (pictured above). Tofu satay is one of my favorite dishes, and I wanted to see how their recipe compared to the others I've tried in the past.

The verdict:
this cookbook is worth getting for the peanut sauce recipe alone! It uses a close ratio of peanut butter to coconut milk as its base, then slowly introduces a small but balanced variety of tastes and textures to produce a complex and rich sauce to dredge your succulent and caramelized tofu into.This is now my new go-to peanut sauce recipe for its bold flavor and easy prep. I'm excited to try out more of their recipes and know that Spork-Fed will become a solid fixture in my cookbook collection.

Now, on to the Giveaway!

Here are the details:

PRIZE: A brand-new copy of Spork-Fed, Nasoya "Tofu U" gym shorts and coupons for five free Nasoya products!

TO ENTER: Simply leave a comment to this post that includes the phrase "Spork-Fed!" (One entry per reader, please.)

BONUS QUESTION: Include your favorite tofu dish or favorite way to prepare tofu in your comment.

DEADLINE: Contest ends on Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 10 p.m., EST.

RESULTS: One lucky winner will then be
announced through an update to this post on Tuesday, June 12 (chosen by using I'll ask the winner for their email address at that point and arrange to have the items shipped through Nasoya. (Shipped within the US only.)

Good luck!

Melissa D. is the lucky winner of this giveaway—congratulations Melissa! Thanks to everyone for entering the giveaway!