Saturday, December 29, 2012

Olives for Dinner: 2012 Favorites

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I can't believe that it's been two whole years since I created Olives for Dinner. Since I started blogging in January 2011, I've challenged myself in ways that I never knew I could in the kitchen, formed countless friendships with other like-minded bloggers and developed the discipline to consistently crank out two posts a week. And I am so lucky to have such an amazing, patient and talented husband who happily photographs the results of my endeavors! To anyone who visits the blog, tries out a recipe or takes a moment to comment on a post ... thank you! 

Below are some of my favorite creations from the past year. These may not have been the most popular posts overall, but they are all ideas and concepts that I was the most excited to think up of, execute and style throughout 2012.

My favorite post of 2012: Faux-Roe Gunkanmaki with Pickled Daikon

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Horseradish Potato Pancakes with Raw Apple Salad

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Every year I have the opportunity to attend a Hanukkah candle lighting and, although I'm not Jewish, I love the warm sense of community created by this light, informal and friendly ritual. Once a few songs are sung, Manischewitz and latkes are served with sour cream, which I never try, because they contain egg and dairy. As I sip Manischewitz from a little plastic cup, and watch as others consume the golden and crispy latkes, I tell myself that I will veganize the latke at home, but never have—until today.

I wanted to keep the potato pancakes here as simple as possible, but introduce some subtle flavors and components to create a balanced dish. To achieve that, I spiked the potatoes with a bit of horseradish, then made a vegan sour cream dill sauce and rounded everything out with a raw apple salad with a touch of coconut vinegar, agave and ground ginger powder. The result here was a simple yet balanced plate that was fun to make and looked really pretty on the plate.

for the pancakes
olive oil
2 medium-sized russet potatoes
1 TB all-purpose flour
1 TB chickpea flour
1 tsp salt

a few dashes of fresh cracked pepper
2 TB prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp Ener-G, whisked with 2 TB cold water

for the apple salad
1 MacIntosh apple, finely diced
a few dashes of raw coconut vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1 tsp raw agave syrup
pinch of dried ground ginger

to serve
3/4 cup Tofutti sour cream
4 TB chopped fresh dill
2-3 shallots, finely sliced

Peel, then grate the potatoes on a box grater. Place the shredded potatoes into a sieve, rinse until the water runs clear, then place into a thin dishtowel or cheesecloth and squeeze them as hard as possible to remove all of the moisture. Place into a large bowl.

Place the rest of the pancake ingredients into a 
separate small bowl, and whisk until well combined. Pour the mixture into the potatoes, and combine well.

Combine the apples, vinegar, agave and ground ginger together and stir to combine. Place into the refrigerator to chill.

Combine the vegan sour cream and dill together into a small bowl. Set aside.

In a small pan, combine the sliced shallots with a little olive oil. Place over low heat to slowly caramelize while you prepare your pancakes.

Place a few tablespoons of oil into a large pan over medium heat. Place a golfball-sized amount into your hands, roll into a ball, then flatten as much as possible. Place into the hot oil until golden brown (about 4 minutes), then flip and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels while you finish the rest of the pancakes.

Serve immediately with the dill cream, raw apples and caramelized shallots.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sweet and Sour Crispy Mock Chicken Stir Fry

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I have had a bag of Butler Soy Curls in the back of my kitchen cabinet for about a million years, because I wasn't exactly sure how to use this bizarre yet healthy ingredient. However, I got an intense craving this past weekend for this lovely dish, so I pulled out the bag of soy curls and got to work on whipping up something similar that would satisfy my craving. This this faux-meaty dish not only looked exactly like Chinese takeout, but also tasted just like the real thing.

After my husband shot these photos, I asked if he wanted a bite. He tried a forkful, turned his head slightly to the side for a few moments, then pulled up a chair and proceeded to chow down until it was almost all gone. M
y vegan heart instantly swelled a few sizes seeing him relish the dish like this, making me an instant fan of this simple yet versatile whole food ingredient.

for the mock chicken
1 cup Butler Soy Curls
1 1/2 cup Imagine Brand No-Chicken broth
4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed

for the sauce
reserved broth (about 3/4 cup)
1 TB sesame oil
2 TB soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 TB sriracha
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 TB raw agave
1 TB cornstarch, dissolved in 2 TB cold water

for the stir fry
1/2 onion, halved and sliced
5 large curly kale leaves, with ribs removed and ripped into pieces
handful of cashews
1/2 cup mushrooms (I used hon-shimeji here, but any type will do)
2 scallions, sliced

to fry the mock chicken
1 cup cornstarch, placed into a large and shallow bowl
1 1/2 tsp Ener-G, whisked with 5 TB cold water, placed into a large and shallow bowl
plenty of vegetable oil, for frying

rice or noodles

sesame seeds, for serving

Place the soy curls, broth and smashed garlic into a small saucepan. Bring to a small boil over medium heat, then turn the heat off. Allow the soy curls to sit in the hot liquid for about 10 minutes.

Drain the soy curls using a fine mesh strainer, but reserve the leftover liquid to make your sauce. Place the soy curls into a towel and cover it with another towel. Put a heavy pan or pot on top to get some of the moisture out while you prepare your sauce and vegetables.

Place the reserved broth and the rest of the sauce ingredients (except for the cornstarch/water mixture) back into the saucepan over low heat.

Place plenty of vegetable oil (at least 5 inches high) into another small saucepan over medium-high heat. While it is heating (it will take about 7 minutes), prepare the vegetables by combining them into a in a large saucepan with a little oil over low to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

Now you should be ready to fry the soy curls. Place a wooden spoon into the oil, touching the bottom of the pan. If bubbles form immediately around it, you are ready to fry. Place the soy curls into the water/Ener-G mixture, then toss them into the cornstarch, coating well and tapping off any excess. Working in small batches, gently drop them into the oil, piece by piece, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Allow to fry for 3-4 minutes, then remove them from the oil using a skimmer. Place them onto paper towels to drain. Repeat the process until all of the soy curls are fried.

Return to your sauce. Increase the heat to medium high. Once it starts to bubble, add in the cornstarch/water mixture and stir constantly until slightly thickened. 
You'll want the mixture to have the consistency of maple syrup. If it doesn't thicken up after a minute or so, mix a little more cornstarch with water and repeat. 

Now throw the fried mock chicken into the sauce and stir gently to coat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. To serve, place the vegetables into a bowl, then spoon the fried mock chicken over the top. Serve immediately with rice or noodles.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Brittle with Habanero

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One of my favorite places to go for spices and hard-to-find ingredients is Christina's Spice & Specialty Foods, located in Inman Square in Cambridge. This small and unassuming shop has a vast array of unique dried spices like mango powder, methi, alfalfa powder, liquorice root and juniper. I'm not sure what I would do with many of these things, but I do love to go into this fragrant, pleasantly cramped and overstocked shop just to see (and smell) what is there. The last time I went, I bought some saffron, chia seeds and a jar of neon orange habanero powder, all with handwritten labels and accompanied by very cheap price tag. 
This habanero powder was a fantastic find because of its deeply spicy, complex and perfectly balanced quality—and because it tastes especially amazing with chocolate. 

I've combined peanuts, chocolate and a spicy element in a dessert before with surprisingly good results, so I thought I try it again in a brittle this weekend. I wanted it to be rich and almost toffee-like, so I used a combination of coconut cream and soy lecithin to achieve that quality. This created a buttery and fatty note, which was perfectly balanced out by the crisp and subtly shocking habanero powder. A final dredge in some melted and slightly sweetened raw chocolate sealed everything together here nicely, creating an addictive and unique melt-in-your-mouth brittle.

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup corn syrup
1 TB soy lecithin (optional)
1/4 cup coconut cream (skim the heavy stuff off the top of the can)
3/4 cup of roasted and salted whole peanuts
1/2 teaspoon of habanero powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 TB Earth Balance

1/4 cup raw virgin coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup unsweetened chocolate powder (I used Ghirardelli brand)

2 TB raw agave
extra large-crystal salt

Line a baking sheet with a silpat. Set aside. 
Place the first five ingredients into small saucepan over medium heat. Clip a thermometer to the side of it and set it to 300 degrees. (I used this.) Constantly stir the mixture until well combined with a rubber spatula and it starts to slightly bubble. Add in the peanuts and stir to combine.

Making sure the end of the thermometer is fully submerged but not touching the bottom of the saucepan, stir continuously until the temperature reaches 300 degrees. Remove the saucepan from the heat, then stir in the habanero powder until combined. Now, add in the baking soda and stir. It should be very bubbly and rise if you stop stirring it for a few seconds. Now add in the vegan butter and stir again. It should be very fluffy and almost marshmallow-like in texture.

Pour the contents onto the silpat-lined baking sheet using the rubber spatula. Lift and tilt the baking sheet from side to side so the mixture sets evenly. Let it cool for about 30 minutes.

Melt the coconut oil in the microwave for about 15 seconds. Whisk it together with the cocoa powder and raw agave in a medium-sized shallow square vessel.

Break the brittle into pieces and dredge then in the chocolate, returning them to the silpat to slightly harden. Sprinkle immediately with a little large crystal salt. Place into the freezer for about 10 minutes to set, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This brittle tastes best after a few hours of chilling in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vegan Palak Paneer

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Before I went vegan, one of my favorite Indian dishes was palak paneer. I loved this richly spiced and smooth-textured dish, and always ordered it with a heavy dose of hot pepper, garlic naan and a Kingfisher. I had a random and intense craving for it the other day, so I used this recipe which I had bookmarked months ago but had forgotten about. I made minimal tweaks here and there to veganize it, and it produced a palak paneer that reminded me of the authentic version I used to enjoy many years ago. This dish was easy to make, smelled amazing and has just the right amount of richness and spice. Adapted from Indian Simmer.  

1 can of full-fat coconut milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coconut vinegar
1 block of extra-firm tofu, pressed very well and cut into dice-sized cubes
small red onion, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic
1 TB fresh ginger, chopped

1 TB vegetable oil
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
pinch of ground cloves
1 tsp fennel seeds

1-4 thai green chilis, chopped (optional)
7 oz. canned tomatoes
16 oz. bag of chopped frozen spinach
fresh cilantro, chopped
salt, to taste

basmati rice and vegan naan, for serving

Combine the coconut milk, salt and coconut vinegar into a small and deep glass pyrex dish. Throw in the tofu cubes and stir gently to ensure they are all coated. Cover with saran wrap and place into the refrigerator for a few hours to marinade.

Preheat your oven to 350.

Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper and remove the tofu cubes very gently from the thick marinade, being careful not to squash them. Reserve the leftover marinade.

Place the tofu cubes out into nice even rows onto the silpat or parchment. It's fine to have the marinade kind of pooling around the tofu cubes, Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until to slightly browned, rotating them every 15 minutes to prevent scorching.

Place the onion, garlic and ginger into a food processor and grind into a paste. Transfer to a medium-sized pot with the vegetable oil. Allow to slightly caramelize over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times to prevent overbrowning. Decrease the heat to low, then add a few dashes of salt and the next four spices and chilis (if using), then allow to simmer for a minute or two. Throw in the tomatoes and stir to combine.

In another pot, throw in the frozen spinach with about a cup of water. Simmer over medium-high heat until the spinach is completely heated through. Transfer the spinach to a food processor and puree until smooth, then transfer it to the pot with the onion and spices and stir well.

Allow your saag to simmer in the pot over low heat while you wait for your tofu to finish baking. Once it's ready, pick the silpat up like a taco, and dump the contents into the pot, being sure to scrape in the the little bits of caramelized marinade and oil and stir well to combine. Add in the rest of the reserved coconut marinade (about 1/3 cup). Garnish with the fresh cilantro.

Serve with basmati rice and vegan naan. These curried chickpea and onion fritters would be a perfect appetizer to go along with this dish.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Black Rice Noodles with Fresh Kale, Mint and Basil

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There must be more than 100 kinds of noodles to choose from in Chinatown. I've selected and prepared many of these noodles that vary in hue from pale white to buckwheat brown, and every shade in between. However, this past week I spotted some black rice noodles—a shade and type I had never seen or tried before. After a quick boil and cold water rinse, these black noodles looked really pretty and tasted amazing garnished with a generous sprinkling of fresh minced kale, basil and mint. I served them with fried tofu triangles, but sauteed tofu would also taste nice here with the sweet, salty and slightly spicy sauce. 

for the sauce
3 TB mirin
1 TB dark sesame oil
1 TB soy sauce
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp raw agave syrup
1 tsp to 1 TB sambal oelek or sriracha

for the noodles
2 bundles of black rice noodles
1 cup minced kale
2 TB minced fresh mint
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
thai red chili, sliced (optional)
black and white sesame seeds

Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add in the noodles and stir. Boil for 5-7 minutes, then turn the stove heat off and drain and rinse the noodles under cold water. Return the rinsed noodles to the pot, then add in the minced kale, mint and basil to the warm pan and allow to wilt for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. Add in a few tablespoons of the sauce to taste and stir to combine. Serve immediately with the sesame seeds and thai chili peppers, with the remaining sauce on the side.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Coconut, Pomegranate and Lime Kanten

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I haven't made kanten since my last semi-disaster, but did learn two very important things about agar through my misstep, which are: a.) it must be boiled to be activated and b.) acidic agents, like those found in sour fruits, prevent agar from gelling properly. Armed with this knowledge, I attempted to make another kanten dessert this weekend that turned out to be a success. To reduce the amount of acid in the pomegranate, I rinsed and soaked the seeds in water first. Then, I created a subtly salted layer of coconut cream, and topped it off with a clear raw agave-sweetened base. A few pomegranate seeds were tossed in once the layers had slightly set, giving it a pop of color and an interesting textural contrast. This looked really pretty, tasted fresh and clean and was easy to make. 

for the clear portion
2 cups cold water
1 tsp agar powder
2 TB raw agave syrup

for the coconut portion
Small can of full-fat coconut milk (161 mL)
1 tsp agar powder
1/8 tsp salt

to finish
1/2 pomegranate, seeded and rinsed
lime zest of 1/2 lime

Place the cold water into a glass measuring cup and microwave on high for 3 minutes. While the water is heating, place the coconut milk into a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until combined, then add in the agar and salt. Whisk until it starts to bubble.

Remove the water from the microwave and whisk in the agar powder. Heat for another 30 seconds in the microwave, then remove and whisk in the agave. Set aside.

Lightly grease the inside of a Tovolo tray with a little coconut oil. Wipe away any clumps or excess oil. Using a tablespoon, place one spoonful of the coconut milk into each compartment. Drizzle any leftover mixture into the compartments evenly. Place into the freezer for about 10 minutes to slightly set.

Touch the tops of the coconut mixture gently with your fingertips. It should be slightly firm on the top, but soft underneath. If this texture is achieved, spoon the clear mixture into the compartments, leaving about a half an inch space at the top. Let it lightly set in the freezer for about 5 minutes, then remove and distribute the pomegranate seeds evenly into the compartments. Place it back into the freezer for 15-20 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to set for an additional hour.

To serve, place a plate, faceside down, over the top of the tray. Flip it over, then manipulate the tray slightly to release the cubes. Serve topped with some extra pomegranate seeds and lime zest.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Vegan French Onion Soup Sandwich

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This is a fusion of two dishes I've made before—vegan french onion soup and vegan grilled cheese—which happen to go together perfectly. The deeply caramelized onions have a unique dark sweetness to them, and the addition of sherry and thyme gives a hint of acidity that is nicely balanced out by rich and melted vegan cheese. I loved everything about this dish, from sweating and caramelizing the onions for almost two hours (it smells amazing) to melting the cheese on toasted fresh focaccia bread, to dipping the sandwich in the soup, to savoring each sloppy bite.

for the cheese
1/2 can full-fat coconut milk
1/2 tsp coconut vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp agar powder
1/2 TB tapioca flour
1 TB nutritional yeast (nooch)

for the soup
3 large Vidalia onions
5 TB Earth Balance
1 TB flour
1/2 cup sherry
4 cups homemade vegetable stock with one Not-Beef bouillon cube added
Imagine brand mushroom stock

5 springs of fresh thyme, tied with baker's twine
2 bay leaves

to make the sandwiches
focaccia bread, sliced
Earth Balance

To make the cheese
Combine all of the cheese ingredients except for the nooch in a small saucepan. Whisk briskly continuously until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove it from the heat, stir in the nooch and transfer it to a small pyrex dish. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

To make the soup
Start by slicing the ends off of the onions and peeling them. Slice them vertically in half, then slice each half thinly into half-moon shapes. In a large dutch oven, melt the Earth Balance over medium-low heat. Add in the onion and sprinkle with some salt. Cover and let them sweat for 45 minutes.

Uncover, stir and sprinkle with a little more salt. Allow to reduce and caramelize for 45 minutes to an hour more, stirring no more than two or three times, to allow the color to deepen. 

Sprinkle the onion with flour and stir well for about a minute. Add in the sherry to deglaze the pot, then stir to combine. Allow to simmer for 5-7 minutes more, then remove about 1/2 cup of the onions and place to the side.

Return to the soup, and then throw in the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Slowly pour in either the vegetable stock along with the Not-beef bouillon cube or the mushroom stock. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes more.

To make the sandwiches
While the soup is simmering, heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Remove your cheese from the refrigerator and mash it around with a fork. Spread a thin amount onto a piece of focaccia. Place a little Earth Balance onto the hot skillet, then place the focaccia on top of that, cheese side up. Once the focaccia is toasted, quickly flip it over to allow the cheese to slightly melt, only a second or two, then spoon some of the reserved onions over the top. Toast another piece of focaccia, then place that on top of the sandwich.

Return to your soup, remove the bay leaves and thyme, and transfer to crocks or small bowls. Serve immediately with the hot sandwiches.