Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kale, Tofu and Cashew Stir-Fry with Cold Soba Noodles

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Towards the end of the week, I always have small amounts of leftover kale and tofu, and I've found that this stir-fry is the best way to use them up. Although I've made this dish countless times, it had never occurred to me to put it on the blog until my husband suggested it the other night. The kale and tofu, along with a handful of raw cashews and a generous dousing of the garlic-ginger sauce all taste amazing together with nothing else added except for some buckwheat noodles. However, I also had some leftover king oyster mushroom stems (when you slice them, they become vegan scallops!), carrots and shallots this week, so they were added in as well to create this colorful, healthy and delicious stir-fry.

for the sauce
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
1 TB sesame oil
3 TB mirin
1 TB soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sriracha

for the stir-fry
1/2 block of tofu, sliced any way (no need to press it)
6-8 lacinato kale leaves, finely chopped OR
8-10 chopped curly kale leaves stems removed)
handful of raw cashews
2 servings of pre-measured buckwheat noodles

Place the garlic, ginger and sesame oil into a skillet over low heat. Allow to soften for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the garlic does not burn. Turn the heat up to medium high. When it starts to sizzle, add in the mirin and stir. Add in the remaining sauce ingredients and allow to sizzle for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a bowl to cool.

Now throw the tofu onto the same skillet, cover and saute until browned, about 5-7 minutes for each side. Remove from the skillet and then add any other leftover vegetables, and saute as needed. Throw the chopped kale and cashews in last, and saute for only 2-3 minutes to soften.

While the tofu and vegetables are cooking, bring plenty of water to a boil in a separate medium-sized saucepan. Add in the buckwheat noodles and boil according to package directions. Rinse in plenty of cool water and then transfer to serving bowls.

Add the cooked tofu and vegetables to the serving bowls with noodles, then top with the garlic-ginger sauce. Serve immediately.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Za'atar Tofu

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There is an amazing tiny Middle Eastern market near where I work. It has tons of spices, fresh pita bread, hard-to-find canned items and multiple barrels of fresh olives to choose from. I stepped in quickly the other day to pick up some raw tahini and came across a spice mix called za'atar, which I immediately picked up to inspect further. As I gave it a good sniff, my initial thought was that it was for making tea, until I heard a voice from behind me say, "That's good! You can mix it with oil and put in on bread," followed by a friendly greeting from the shop's owner. He went on to tell me more about its different uses, and I became intrigued by the spice mix, and wondered why I hadn't heard about it before. I bought the large bag, along with fresh raw tahini, and a handful of olives before chatting a bit more with the shopkeeper, and thanked him for his help.

As soon as I left the shop, I got the idea to use it on tofu instead of bread, and it turned out to be a good one. I mixed equal parts oil to za'atar spice mix and rubbed it on some pressed tofu. I added in some roasted garlic, fresh mushrooms, onion and tomato to balance it all out, and made a little tahini sauce on the side. It was fragrant, beautiful, delicious and different.

One block of tofu, pressed well
1/4 cup za'atar
1/4 cup olive oil
one head of garlic
2 TB olive oil
small red onion, sliced into rings
6-8 bella mushrooms, quartered
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 TB raw tahini
4 TB water
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 TB chopped fresh parsley
fresh cracked pepper

Press your block of tofu very well. Mix the za'atar with the oil and rub it into the tofu. Place it into a glass pyrex dish and place into the refrigerator to marinate for at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 375. Slice off the top of a whole head of garlic and place into a small glass pyrex dish. Drizzle with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then cover the dish with aluminum foil. Roast for about 30 minutes, then flip the entire head over, spooning the olive oil over the top. Then roast for 15 minutes more, uncovered. Let it cool completely before separating the bulbs from the papery skins.

Heat a little oil in a small cast iron pan over medium-low heat. Place the sliced onion into the pan and allow it to soften and slightly brown for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the mushrooms and let cook for about 10 minutes.

While your vegetables are cooking, heat up another skillet over medium heat. Place the tofu into the pan and cook for a few minutes on each side. (Grilling or baking should work well, too.)

Return to your cast iron skillet. Toss in the tomatoes and soften for just a few minutes.

Make your tahini sauce by whisking together the tahini, water and apple cider vinegar. Set aside.

Toss your tofu, garlic and vegetables together. Drizzle any leftover za'atar/oil mixture over the top. Serve with the fresh chopped parsley, cracked pepper and tahini.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lychee-Vanilla Coconut Cooler

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Fresh lychees have been very plentiful this summer, and I've been eating them a few times a week by the handfuls. Even though they've become a familiar fixture in my kitchen, they still have a slightly exotic and indulgent quality to them. Encased around a thin but tough leathery skin, lychees reveal a plump and subtly sweet fruit inside that tastes best as is—simple, fresh and whole.

However, as I was cleaning out my refrigerator this weekend, I came across some leftover coconut milk and decided to puree them with some of the fresh lychees, and then transferred the mixture into some popsicle molds. After they had chilled overnight in the freezer, I wasn't able to get them to cleanly separate from their molds, and they came out in very jagged and unphotogenic clumps. So I decided to salvage them by creating an ice-cold cooler instead, and threw in some black tapioca pearls before serving for some contrasting texture. Just like fresh lychees, this cooler was simple, slightly exotic and perfectly refreshing.

10-12 fresh lychees, peeled
2 cups coconut milk
1 1/4 cups almond or hemp milk
pinch of salt
1-inch piece of vanilla bean, scraped
1/2 to 3/4 cup black tapioca pearls

Bring four cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Throw in the tapioca pearls and boil for about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from the water and place into a container. Cover with fresh water and place a lid on it and refrigerate until you are ready to use it. 

Combine all of the other ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a container and place in the refrigerator to chill. About an hour before serving, place it in the freezer. Add some of the tapioca pearls to the cooler before serving. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Savory Corn Pancakes with IKEA Vegan Caviar

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During a shopping trip to IKEA a few weeks ago in Stoughton, MA, I discovered some vegan caviar (made almost entirely from seaweed extract and salt) in the food section for $1.99. Although I've never had real caviar, this product has a nice texture and a briny bite to it. I've used it here to top off some corn pancakes separated by layers of chive-kissed dollops of vegan sour cream. This is a fantastic brunch item that looks amazing on a plate, but is really simple to throw together in just a few steps.

wet ingredients
1 1/2 cups soy or almond milk
1 tsp coconut or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp Ener-G egg replacer
pinch of salt
1 TB melted Earth Balance

dry ingredients
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 TB corn flour
1-2 TB sugar

for serving
2 TB chives, chopped
1/2 cup Tofutti Sour Cream
IKEA caviar

Whisk the vegan milk, vinegar and baking soda together in a glass measuring cup. Allow it so sit for about 10 minutes to thicken, then whisk in the rest of the ingredients.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine the flours and sugar. Make a well in the middle and pour the wet ingredients into it. Stir slowly and gently until combined. Don't overstir or the pancakes will be tough. If you have time, let the batter sit for 20 minutes or so before you make the pancakes (although this isn't necessary).

Preheat a griddle over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes.

While you are waiting for the griddle to preheat, combine the chives with the vegan sour cream and set aside.

Once the griddle is ready, spray it with a little cooking spray. Ladle the batter onto the hot griddle using a tablespoon. After 2-3 minutes, flip them and let the other side brown for an additional 1-2 minutes.

Top the pancakes with the prepared Tofutti/chive mixture and finish with a bit of the IKEA caviar.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Grilled Sambal Oelek Tofu with Peanut Butter Sauce

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I learn all kinds of things in the kitchen every time I prepare a dish. My most recently acquired nugget of knowledge is that sambal oelek (a hot chili sauce with seeds) and sizzling cast iron pans should never, ever make contact with each other. Here's what happened: I coated some tofu cubes in the chili sauce and placed them onto a sizzling hot pan to grill. The seeds then immediately began to pop and fly out at me at a pretty impressive clip. Once the popping stopped after a few seconds, the burst chili seeds then released their fiery fumes, causing me to have a mini-coughing fit.

Despite this brief (and probably hilarious) incident, I adore sambal oelek. Originating from Indonesia, this chili sauce is similar to srircaha, only a little bit chunkier and without the garlic and spices. It releases its heat after a few seconds on the tongue, which allows you to really enjoy the chili flavor with whatever other flavors you've combined it with before you feel the pleasant burn. It goes very well with quesadillas, or added to salsa for a little extra bite of heat, and it's also amazing when used in tofu dishes. Here I've paired it with a peanut butter sauce, because despite the odd sound of this combo, these two things taste amazing together.

for the tofu
1 block of firm tofu
1 TB peanut oil
1 TB sambal oelek

for the sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 TB soy sauce
1 TB toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
2 TB peanut butter
sesame seeds, chopped peanuts and sliced scallions, to serve

Cube the tofu up, then assemble all of the pieces back together into it original block shape. Press the tofu using this method, then toss it with the peanut oil and set aside.

Heat a cast-iron pan over medium heat. While it is heating up, prepare your sauce by whisking together all of the first six sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Place the tofu cubes into the pan and grill until they are brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, wait a few minutes for the pan to cool a bit, then and add in the sambal oelek while everything is till warm, then stir until well-coated.

Pour the sauce into small serving bowls and garnish with the sesame seeds, chopped peanuts and scallions. Serve immediately with the tofu cubes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Caramelized Shallots

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This is the best quick dinner ever. You can whip up this roasted red pepper sauce in a blender in minutes or the night before, so that the only prep involved for making the dish is boiling the pasta and caramelizing some shallots, which already kind of take care of themselves. I originally used this sauce to make cheesy kale chips in this application, but loved the flavor so much I decided I'd try it out on pasta. Straight out of the blender, this is a silky and velvety sauce with a deeply rich, slightly tangy and subtly smoky flavor. The caramelized shallots not only look really pretty on top of the pasta, but also provide a perfect crispy texture in this tasty and simple dish.

1 cup raw cashews, soaked a few hours or overnight
7 ounces of prepared roasted red peppers
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 TB raw tahini
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup almond milk, plus a bit more if needed to thin it out to a sauce-like consistency
2-3 cups dried pasta, any kind (I used torchio pasta)
shallots, thinly sliced (use one shallot per serving)
olive oil

Rinse and drain the cashews, then place them, along with the next five ingredients, into a small food processor and blend until smooth. Add in the remaining ingredients, then blend well again.

Boil your pasta according to the product instructions.While you pasta is boiling, throw your shallots into a lightly-oiled pan over medium low heat. Resist the urge to stir them around a lot so they'll have a chance to develop some caramelization, but watch them to prevent burning. After about 10 minutes they should be nicely crisped. Remove them from the heat.

By this time, your pasta should be ready. Drain it, then place the desired amount of sauce over the top and stir gently to combine. Then transfer to serving bowls and top with the caramelized shallots.

Refrigerate any leftover sauce in the refrigerator and keep it separated from the pasta until you are ready to serve it again.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Deconstructed Taro Root Bubble Tea

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I have tried reverse spherification several different times with coconut milk and soy yogurt, and it always resulted in a disaster, yielding a runny, goopy mess instead of a beautiful, shiny and sturdy sphere. I gave it one last shot with coconut yogurt and I'm glad I did, because it worked perfectly. 

Once that happened, I began to think of ways I could present the spheres on the blog and thought that making plain white vegan yogurt spheres with diced mango and coconut flakes would look really pretty. However, later that day as I was drinking taro root bubble tea, the idea to create a taro root-flavored sphere popped into my head. Since I've gotten the hang of spherification, black tea could serve as the base for the tapioca pearls, with a bit of blackstrap molasses added in to help deepen the color.

These one-bite bubbles not only look beautiful, but also taste really amazing. The taro root bubble has a very thin but sturdy membrane around it, while the texture and taste inside is smooth and creamy—just like taro root tea. The black tea and blackstrap molasses in the tapioca pearls infuses a subtle sweet and dark flavor throughout, making this a strange yet fabulous bite.

for the tapioca pearls
3-4 cups vegetable oil
1/2 cup hot water
2 grams agar powder
1 black tea bag
1 tsp blackstrap molasses

Place the vegetable oil in a tupperware container with a lid and place in the freezer to chill for about an hour.

Place the water into a coffee mug an microwave until it boils. Place the 2 grams of agar into the boiling water and whisk well. Drop in the teabag and steep for about a minute. Squeeze and remove the tea bag. Add in the blackstrap molasses and whisk again. Inspect the color and add just a little bit more molasses if you want a darker tone.

Remove the vegetable oil from the freezer and pour it into a tall beer glass. Fill a squeeze bottle or use a syringe or pipette to pull an inch or two of the tea solution into it. Slowly drop the solution into the cold oil. Drop the tea solution as close as you can into the oil to form a nice round shape. I found that three drops per tapioca pearl worked best and looked the nicest for this application.

After you've made 20 or so pearls, strain them out by pouring the entire glass over a fine mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Then pour the oil back into the beer glass an repeat the entire process again. This step is important because although the pearls are pretty sturdy, too much weight can cause them to warp or even melt all together at the bottom.

You'll only have about 10 minutes to perform this process, as the agar will begin to set after that—instead of drops coming out of your syringe/bottle/pipette, you'll have an unworkable solution with the consistency of toothpaste.

You can store the tapioca pearls in a single layer in the oil. Just rinse in water when you are ready to serve them.

for the taro root tea
3 cups cold water
1 tsp sodium alginate
6 ounces vegan coconut yogurt
1 TB almond milk
1-2 TB taro root powder
1 tsp calcium lactate

Whisk together the water and sodium alginate in a blender. Set aside for 30 minutes to allow the bubbles to settle.

Mix together the vegan yogurt, almond milk, tea powder and calcium lactate gently with a whisk.

Pour a little of the sodium alginate solution into a circular glass with a 2-inch diameter width at the base. Spoon in about a tablespoon of the taro root tea mixture, then slowly add in more of the sodium alginate solution, enough to cover it. Now swirl it around in a circular motion until a spherical shape is achieved, about a minute.

You can now remove it by pouring the contents into your hand. Drop it into a bowl with some water while you make the rest of the taro root spheres. Serve immediately with the rinsed tapioca pearls.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vegan Sausages with Sriracha and Five-Spice Powder

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People often ask me if eating a vegan diet while my husband eats meat ever causes conflict, and my answer is always an unequivocal nope! However, there is one thing that causes an issue from time to time—our opposing views on spicy food. I really, really love spicy food and he can't stand it. In fact, he has an uncanny ability to detect the tiniest amount of spiciness in any dish and always points it out to me. I prefer to put minced hot peppers or sriracha on everything I can, and it's still never enough. I've read a few interesting articles on capsaicin, a chemical found in spicy food, which can trigger an endorphin rush in some people, and may explain why it's so appealing. It's a viable theory, but I also like to think that I enjoy it because it just tastes really good.

One spicy prepared food item that I really like is Field Roast's Mexican Chipotle vegan sausages, but I've been wanting to make a homemade version so I could jack up and create a balanced heat level myself. For these fiery slices, I used Isa Chandra Moskowitz's method of steaming and browning for her Simple Italian Sausages. The reason why this method is so great is that wheat gluten typically gets super dry during the baking process, but steaming infuses moisture into every nook and cranny of the sausage, yielding a succulent and perfectly textured end product. Slice up and brown these sausages to pair with polenta for a hearty and rustic dish, use it in a lasagna when the weather cools down a bit or serve alongside some breakfast hashbrowns or french toast.

Heavily adapted from

1/2 cup refried beans
2 TB sriracha
1/2 tsp Chinese Five-Spice powder
fresh or dried thai chilis, sliced or habanero powder or peppers, minced (use whatever amount you want)
1 TB hot chili oil
1 small shallot, grated on a microplane zester
1 head of roasted garlic, pureed (or 2-3 raw cloves, grated on a microplane zester)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 TB vegan worcestershire sauce
1 TB soy sauce
1 tsp fennel seed
3 TB chickpea flour
1 1/2 cups cold vegetable broth, plus a bit extra if needed
2 cups vital wheat gluten (VWG)
toasted sesame oil

In a large glass bowl, combine the first thirteen ingredients. Mix well. Taste the mixture and adjust any spices as needed.

Now add in the cold broth and mix again until well combined. Add in half of the vital wheat gluten and stir again until well combined. Then add in the rest of the VWG and stir until smooth. It should be soft and squishy, but cleanly adhered together, and all of the VWG should be completely absorbed. Add a bit more cold broth if needed to achieve that texture.

Divide the mixture into four equal pieces. Roll each of the pieces into a cylindrical shape. Place a piece of tin foil on your counter and place a little toasted sesame oil in the middle. Place the sausage of top of that, and roll it up tightly, twisting the ends to create a seal.

Place the sausages in a bamboo or steamer basket. Place that into a larger skillet with a tight fitting lid. Fill the pan with enough water so it comes up halfway to the steamer basket, but does not touch the bottom part of the steamer (you don't want the boiling water to actually touch your sausages). Place the lid over the top and steam over medium heat for 40 minutes.

Remove the sausages from the steamer and allow to cool. If you are not serving right away, keep them wrapped in the tin foil and seal in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator.

To serve, slice them up into 1/4-inch thick or thinner slices, then give them a quick sear in a hot skillet with a little toasted sesame oil.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

White Bean and Roasted Garlic Spread

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I have had a can of white cannellini beans in my kitchen cabinet forever. I bought them by mistake (I thought I was reaching for chickpeas in the store) and wasn't really sure how to use them. As I was whipping up a batch of fava bean falafel for dinner last week, I pulled them out and decided to use them to make a hummus. While my garlic was roasting, I pulled out some sriracha, lemon, salt and spices to use as needed in the hummus—however, after placing the four base ingredients into a food processor, I decided that nothing else was needed, not even a little salt. The roasted garlic and leftover garlic oil melted perfectly into the white beans, giving them a supremely silky and rich flavor. This went perfectly alongside the falafel, but also tasted amazing the next day spread over some crusty bread.

2 whole heads of garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 can (15 oz.) of cannellini beans, rinsed
2-3 TB tahini

Preheat your oven to 350.

Separate all of the garlic cloves from the bulbs, but do not peel them. Place the bulbs in a small pyrex glass dish, and pour the oil over the top. Stir to combine. Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven for about 45 minutes, stirring once during this time. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Then, remove from the oven, and allow the garlic to cool completely.

Remove the garlic from their papery skins by applying a little pressure at the base, and placing them into a food processor. Discard the papery skins on a plate, and reserve the leftover oil in the dish. Once you've gotten all of the garlic into to the food processor, pick up all of the skins in your hand and give them a good squeeze into the food processor to release all of the buttery and flavorful garlic oil.

Place the beans into the food processor with the garlic and pulse a few times. Now add in the tahini and the leftover garlic oil in your pyrex dish. Pulse until smooth, then transfer to a serving dish.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Spring Onion and Chili Pepper Sauce

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I know next to nothing about photography—all of the photos on this blog are taken by my husband. Conversely, my husband doesn't do any of the cooking for the blog. This arrangement, however, works out pretty well for both of us: while I am putting the finishing touches on a dish in the kitchen, he sets up whatever lighting he thinks he'll need for the shoot. I then plate and arrange the dish, and he takes over from there. This system allows us both to be creative in our own way, and helps to produce an end product that is as visually appealing as possible. This particular shoot was a departure from our usual place-the-dish-on-the-corner-of-the-table setup, so I asked him to describe what he did to achieve this effect:
To create this effect I used two remotely-triggered light sources, one from below streaming light through the bottom of the bowl and a second from above to fill in the highlights of the dish. In order to allow the light to stream from below I needed to use a clear or translucent glass bowl, suspended over the flash on a clear plane. So for this shot I just used a standard, clear glass pyrex baking dish bridging two boxes separated about a foot apart from each other (think of an actual bridge over a river, with the baking dish being the bridge, and the boxes being the land on each side). The hardest part about this shot was probably finding two equal height boxes to hold up the baking dish. The first flash is placed on the ground between the boxes pointing directly up towards the bowl. The second flash is on a stand above the bowl, filtered through a softbox. Changing the strengths of the flashes relative to each other changes the effect to either stronger back-lighting (think petri-dish science class) or more standard top-down lighting. Also, you can block out light from the portion of the baking dish outside the edges of the bowl if you want only the bowl lit, which results in more of a planet-in-a-dark sky effect. After taking sample shots of all these effects, we finally settled on the picture seen above.
The base for this sauce is very simple: a 2:1 ratio of boiling water to some seasoned rice vinegar, whisked with some sugar and salt. From there, you can add any kind of components you want to make a pretty dipping sauce. Serve it alongside some deep-fried tofu for a perfectly balanced appetizer.

for the sauce
1 cup boiling water
5 TB sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar

optional components to add once the sauce has cooled
fresh cilantro
sliced hot chili peppers
chopped scalllions
white and black sesame seeds
crushed peanuts
sliced shallots
minced garlic

for the tofu

One block of firm tofu
1 1/2 tsps Ener-G egg replacer, whisked with 5 TB warm water

1/2-3/4 cup cornstarch
plenty of vegetable oil for frying


Place one cup of water in a measuring cup. Microwave until a small boil is achieved. Add in the sugar and salt, then whisk until fully dissolved. Add in the vinegar, whisk again, then place into the refrigerator to cool.

Once cooled, distribute the sauce into small glass bowls and garnish as desired.

To make the tofu, cut the tofu block in half, then cut an X into those squares to produce eight small triangles.  
In a medium-sized pot, heat the oil (enough to submerge the triangles in) over medium-high heat. After about 7 minutes, test the oil's readiness by inserting a wooden spoon into the pot—if bubbles immediately form around the spoon, the oil is ready.

Dip the tofu triangles into the Ener-G mixture, and then coat it in some of the cornstarch, making sure all sides are covered and tapping off any excess. Place the triangles, two at a time, into the oil and fry until golden, about 4 minutes. Carefully remove from the pot and place on paper towels to drain.

Serve immediately with the sauce.