Thursday, October 30, 2008

A vegan taste of India

Last night I took a vegetarian Indian cooking class though a community college here, and it was a blast! It was limited to ten people, and my friend Henry and I grabbed the last two spots. They held it in a home ec room in a high school. Our teacher was a cute little Indian woman who was both sweet and knowledgeable. The group barraged her with questions throughout, and she had an answer each time, whether it was on how to make homemade garam masala, or how Indian women eat during pregnancy. (Side note: she said her favorite local Indian restaurant is Touch of Asia, which I wrote about in early September—it’s a favorite of my crew as well.) We stood around the island at the head of the class and watched her cook each dish. Then, in between, we ate them! It was all delicious, and I took plenty of pictures. Though it’ll make this entry a long one, I really want to share these recipes and techniques with you; they are definitely worth the space.

First, she made vegetable kofta curry, something I had never tried before. Kofta are little fried veggie balls, and though I usually try to avoid fried things, I am known to indulge when it comes to Indian food.

2 cups of grated vegetables (any ratio of carrot, cabbage, and cauliflower)
1 small white onion, grated
2 green chiles, chopped
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
4-6 mint leaves, chopped, or 2 tsp dried
1 cup gram flour (also called chickpea flour or besan)
Salt to taste
Oil (such as canola) for frying

Heat the oil over high heat. Squeeze any moisture out of the grated veggies, and combine all ingredients except the oil in a large bowl. Mix well, adding a little bit of water if necessary to moisten. Turn the heat down to medium. Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls, dropping into the oil as you go. Turn them occasionally, and when they’re golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

We got to try these on their own, and they were great. Consider this: I don’t like cauliflower, and I actually detest cabbage, but I still really liked these. I think the key is to grate, not chop, the veggies, so they’re virtually indistinguishable. Be sure to try one, but be careful, they stay hot for several minutes. As they cooled, we made the sauce portion of the dish.

1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce/puree
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 T grated garlic
1 T grated ginger
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
2 T olive oil
1 cup water

Heat the oil, add the onion, and cook and stir for several minutes, until translucent. (She cooked it for longer than I probably would have, and I think that was key. When in doubt, cook it a little more rather than less.) Add the coriander, cumin, chili powder, and turmeric. Add the tomato sauce and cook until the oil separates. (You’ll see it cling up the sides of the pan as you cook. This is an important step.) After that, cook and stir for several more minutes, until the sauce reduces and thickens. (This really concentrated the flavors and did a world of good.) Add the water (using more or less as necessary to get it to sauce consistency) and garam masala. Bring it to a boil and add the kofta, allowing them to re-warm.

Remove from the heat, and serve with basmati rice or naan. Lovely!

I’ll tell you right now, this dish was my favorite of the evening (which surprised me). The kofta were great on their own, but once they soak in that curry sauce, they become impossibly moist and savory. The sauce is a tomatoey amalgam of flavors that explodes on your tongue. I did not want to stop eating this.

The next dish we made is my favorite Indian vegetarian dish, dal makhani.

1 can kidney beans, drained
3/4 cup cooked lentils
1 small red onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce/puree
1 T grated garlic
1 T grated ginger
2-3 green chiles, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp garam masala
Salt to taste
1 T olive oil
Cilantro, chopped

Heat the oil, and add the cumin seeds, garlic, and ginger. Stir for a moment, then add the onion. Cook and stir for several minutes, until translucent. Add the tomato and cook and stir till soft. Add the tomato sauce and cook and stir for several minutes. Add the turmeric, chili powder, garam masala, and salt to taste. Stir in the kidney beans.

Then stir in the lentils...

...and add water until it reaches a thick but saucy consistency.

If you’re not vegan, this is where you’d add a couple tablespoons of butter. But I recommend simply removing it from the heat, scattering on the cilantro, and enjoying as-is. Again, serve with rice or naan.

So good and very authentic. Again, cook the onion very well, and cook the sauce down after adding the tomato sauce in order to let the spices boil and bloom.

The next dish, made as we did last night, takes us out of vegan territory. Palak paneer is cubes of firm cheese in a creamy (dairy) spinach sauce. You can use milk/cream and paneer, like she did last night, but I’m going to modify the recipe here to be vegan. I’m excited to try this one, veganized, at home.

1 pkg chopped frozen spinach
1 T grated garlic
1 T grated ginger
1 cup plain soymilk, warm
1 pkg extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes and microwaved till spongy
1 small red onion, chopped
2-3 green chiles, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce/puree
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 cup plain soy creamer, or plain soymilk+1 tsp cornstarch
Salt to taste

Soak the microwaved tofu in 1/2 cup of the soymilk. Cook the spinach with the other 1/2 cup soymilk in the microwave for 10 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed/evaporated. Heat the oil and add the onion and chiles; cook and stir for several minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for several minutes more.

Add the chopped tomato and cook until soft. Add the tomato sauce, turmeric, and chili powder and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the spinach; blend until combined. Put it back on the stove, add the salt, and cook until the oil separates. Drain the tofu and add to the pan.

*****DAIRY ALERT!*****
The picture you are about to see is not vegan. Nor is the next. That’s real milk ‘n cheese. Sorry.

Add the soy creamer or soymilk and bring to a boil. Stir in the garam masala and remove from the heat. Serve with rice or naan.

Yep, I tried a bite. It was good—anything that makes me eat spinach MUST be good. But I’ll tell you, it’ll be even better made with tofu and soymilk.

The last dish of the night was mango chutney. Her definition of chutney is NOT the jammy stuff you find in restaurants. She said it should be very chunky and not jelly-like at all. Sadly, we don’t have the best mangoes here in Kansas in October (actually we never really get great mangoes...but I digress), so the final product wasn’t as she wanted it, but you’ll get the idea.

2 mangoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1/4 tsp mustard seed
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 black peppercorns
2-3 dry red chiles
2 tbsp chopped mint leaves, or 2 tsp dried
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 T sugar
Salt to taste
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice

Heat the oil and add all the spices, plus the ginger. Cook and stir for a couple minutes, until fragrant.

Add the mango pieces and cook and stir at low heat for 10-20 minutes, depending on your mango.

Ten minutes into it, add the sugar and salt, and continue cooking and stirring until the mango pieces are soft but still firm. Remove from the heat, stir in lemon juice and mint, and serve. The symphony of spices is so complex and rich, it'll have you eating bite after bite.

And that draws to a close an evening full of gourmet homecooked Indian comfort food. It was fun, informative, and so, so delicious. I will definitely be making these dishes at home.

If you like this, you might also like...
Indian curried lentils

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkin oatmeal cookies

Remember when I told you to save the remainder of that can of pumpkin from last entry’s pizza sauce? As promised, here is the perfect solution to not letting that go to waste. These are based on the recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance, though I only made a half batch (I live alone, and can only eat so much!), and I changed or substituted several ingredients.

I’m not a fan of oatmeal cookies in general; they usually just make me wish I were eating a chocolate chip cookie. I’m also not too much of a fan of wintry-spiced things. The warm scents that make other people melt (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc.) just don’t do it for me. (I especially dislike gingerbread. If you were wondering.) As far as pumpkin goes, I like it ok, but I'm not wild on it. (I always choose pecan pie over pumpkin at Thanksgiving.) There are, however, a few exceptions to my pumpkin apathy, including a delicious pumpkin dip I’ll hopefully make and post sometime this winter, and now, these awesome cookies. They taste like pumpkin pie in chewy cookie form, in a good way. I may turn into a pumpkin lover yet.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cups quick or rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup - 1/2+1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 T molasses
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp ground flaxseed
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and either grease two baking sheets, or cover them with parchment paper (my preferred method; I even have the unbleached kind). Mix together the flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. (I apologize in advance for the unclear photos...I was experimenting with not using the flash. Oh well.)

Put the sugar, oil, molasses, pumpkin, vanilla, and flaxseeds in a separate (bigger) bowl. If you don’t have flaxseeds, that’s ok. The reason I have “3/4 cup - 1/2+1/3 cup sugar” in the recipe is that I used 1/2 cup+1/3 cup, and my cookies were plenty sweet; next time I would use just a little less, 3/4 cup. Your choice.

Whisk those together until very well combined, and the sugar starts to dissolve.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, folding to combine with a spatula or wooden spoon.

After you finish adding the dry ingredients, fold in the walnuts. The original recipe also says to add raisins, but my response to that was “”

Make sure you taste the dough, of course, and then drop it by tablespoons onto the baking sheets. I use an ice cream scoop to make mine uniform. I have two scoops, a 2-tsp one and a 1.5-T one, so I split the difference and made one pan of baby cookies and one pan of big ones. Since these don’t spread much, you’ll want to flatten them out with a fork or your fingers.

Now, the recipe says to bake the 1-T cookies for 16 minutes. I’ll tell you that my small cookies baked in 12 minutes, and my large ones baked in 14, so check on yours before the 16 minutes is up.

They don’t look terribly different, do they? Well, chalk that up to the fact that they remain chewy, moist, and tender, inside just a whisper of a crust. The verdict: sweet, oaty, pumpkiny, scrumptious.

Yield: 2 dozen cookies. Per cookie: 100 calories, 4.8g fat (trace sat), 13.6g carbs, 1.2g fiber, 1.2g protein.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Vegan pepperoni pizza

One of Nick’s favorite foods is pepperoni pizza, and you can imagine my inner cringe whenever he orders and eats (a whole) one. Awhile back, though, he very willingly tried some vegan pepperoni I had bought, and he liked it! Since then, I have made this pizza for us multiple times. It hasn’t replaced pepperoni pizza entirely in his diet, but it serves as an excellent substitute that is hearty and satisfying enough to quell his pizza cravings for a time after eating it.

I make my pizza sauce at home, and I make it uniquely (albeit sneakily) healthful. My secret ingredient – pumpkin! Weird as it may sound, when mixed with tomato sauce, the pumpkin taste fades entirely to the background, and it serves as a perfect thickener while allowing the tomato and herbs to shine through. I highly recommend everyone try this; it’s a healthy and surprisingly tasty addition. Why not get fiber and vitamin A as you’re getting your pizza fix?

I don’t think I can really call this a “recipe,” but here are the supplies you’ll need.

1 pizza dough of any kind, storebought or homemade
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce, plain or Italian-style
1 can (any size) canned pure pumpkin
1 pkg vegan pepperoni
Mozzarella or vegan cheese of choice
Black pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, dried Italian herbs as desired

For weeknight convenience, I use Pillsbury thin crust pizza in the can – it’s accidentally vegan! Check it and see for yourself. I preheat the oven to 400 degrees and stretch the dough out across a greased baking sheet.

To make the sauce, I mix equal parts tomato sauce and pumpkin. I don’t really measure; I just dump in the whole 8-oz. can of sauce, and then throw in approximately the same amount of pumpkin. (Save the rest of the can of pumpkin, though, for the cookies you’ll see in here later this week!)

I add a couple spoonfuls of black pepper and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper. If you didn’t use herby tomato sauce, definitely add a spoonful of basil or oregano or both, or a dried Italian herb mix. Put in as much garlic powder as you want (I recommend lots) or, if you have the time/inclination, mince some fresh garlic and put that in. Basically, just add whatever you want that will make it taste good to you; it’s very open-ended. Whisk everything together. If you’d like a particularly luxurious sauce, include a spoonful or two of olive oil.

See how the pumpkin disappears? The only trace of it you’ll detect is a pleasant sweetness that actually enhances the juicy tomato taste. Smear that goodness all over the unbaked crust, and break out the pepperoni. I use Yves. The texture was slightly odd to me when first tried a piece plain, but when baked on pizza, it’s fantastic. I always put the pepperoni under the cheese so that it doesn’t get crispy or burnt (which is a danger for me, since I like a well-baked pizza).

Sprinkle your cheese on there – use Italian blend or mozzarella for vegetarian, or any decently melty dairy-free white cheese you can find for vegan. For extra flair, I like to sprinkle a pinch more dried herbs on top.

Bake it for however long your crust package tells you to. Underbake or overbake as desired. I always wait to take mine out till the cheese is nice and brown, with those delicious dark spots throughout.

Who’s hungry?! Slice up and dig in. The omnivore in your life will love it, and you’ll be providing them (and yourself) with nutrition disguised as junk food. Sneaky? If you don’t tell them what’s in it, then sure. Delicious? Without a doubt.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cherry almond muffins

Yes, more muffins. Sorry for the lack of variety, but read the muffin chapter of Vegan with a Vengeance, and you’ll understand why I’ve had muffins on the brain. (If I ever buy Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, you guys are in trouble.) These muffins are part sweet, part hearty; part fruity, part nutty. I altered the original recipe in quite a few ways, most notably by using dried cherries instead of fresh. My version is chock full of chewy cherry chunks, and the mild accent of the almond extract makes them taste, to me, a little like the holidays.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup soymilk, plain or vanilla
6 oz. (1 container) soy yogurt, plain or vanilla
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/2-1 cup sliced almonds, toasted if desired
3/4 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Sift the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Chop those cherries if you haven’t already, and feel free to munch on some as you do so.

Make a well in the center of the bowl and add the oil, soymilk, yogurt, and extracts.

Mix gently with a wooden spoon until combined. Add the cherries and all but a couple spoonfuls of the almonds...

...and fold those in just till they’re distributed. Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Partially crush up the last couple spoonfuls of almonds, and sprinkle them on the tops of the muffins.

Bake for 18-22 minutes (mine were done in 16, though!).

Let them rest for a couple minutes in the pan, then move them to a rack to cool, and admire them prodigiously.

Be sure to eat your first one while it’s still warm – you only get one chance!

Yield: 1 dozen muffins. Per muffin: 221 calories, 8.8g fat (.7g sat), 32.5g carbs, 3g fiber, 4g protein.

If you like this, you might also like...
Banana wheat germ muffins

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Genghis Khan/vegan marathon

So on Saturday, I ran a freaking marathon! My first! And I ran it WELL. I finished way faster than I thought I would—26.2 miles in 4 hours 55 minutes. I'm incredibly proud...possibly more so than for anything else I've ever done. And what kept me going (besides my boyfriend, who was wonderfully supportive the entire way)? Almost all vegan food. I'm living proof that a vegan or mostly vegan diet provides more than enough high-quality fuel for feats of endurance. Think vegans can't be athletes? THINK AGAIN!

After the marathon, we ate lunch at my favorite restaurant in the world: Genghis Khan. I promise you, you don't know Mongolian barbecue until you've been here.

This place is hip, healthy, and PACKED with options. You start out with veggies...

There are WELL over a dozen different vegetables to choose from. Mushrooms, spinach, jalapeno, bean sprouts, corn, pineapple, broccoli, water chestnuts, edamame, carrot, zucchini, green pepper, red pepper, cabbage. roasted potatoes...those are the fifteen I can think of right now, and there are more I can't even recall. There are also peanuts and tofu...and they have the BEST, most perfect pre-baked tofu IN THE WORLD.

Everything is cut evenly, all ingredients are insanely fresh, and things like the potatoes and tofu are precooked so they don't mess up the cooking time for the whole dish. My signature mix: broccoli, carrot, corn, edamame, red pepper, tofu, potatoes, and peanuts.

The next section is meat and seafood...yeah, I didn't take a picture of that. But there is also the choice of rice noodles, egg noodles, or bean thread noodles. Mmm! Then...the sauce station.

There is no way I could remember all the choices here. Soy sauce, sweet & sour, sesame oil, canola oil, garlic water, sugar water, ginger water, white wine, sriracha, and at LEAST half a dozen others. My signature sauce: a couple ladles of soy sauce, a couple ladles of garlic water, and just a dash of sesame oil.

At the edge of the bar are the dry spices. Salt, black pepper, white pepper, thyme, basil, curry powder, tequila lime powder, chipotle powder, crushed red pepper paste, and once again, several others I can't remember. My mix is a dash of red pepper paste, quite a bit of white pepper, and a mindboggling amount of curry powder.

Bwahaha! Then you hop in line and surrender your bowl to these guys:

They toss and turn and sizzle your personal stir-fry on the huge hibachi till it's all hot, cooked, and ready to go. They even use different food-tosser-thingies for the vegetarian dishes. After that, all that's left to do is to add a sprinkle of sesame seeds, go back to the table, and die of happiness.

I just salivated on my keyboard. I'm telling you, there is nothing like this restaurant. Somehow, though I have certainly tried, the taste and perfection just can't be replicated at home. The Khan Cravings begin about 4 hours after eating here...and they pervade my life nonstop until I get to go again.

And what a sweet surprise—Nick ate vegan too! I was proud.

Don't ever let anyone tell you that vegan diets don't give you enough nutrition, energy, or stamina. They are so sorely mistaken. To all those non-believers—in your face!

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Vegan biscuits and gravy

I am so freaking proud of this one.

I got home from work on Monday thinking I would make the scrambled tofu in Vegan with a Vengeance, but I didn’t have the necessary vegetables. I browsed through the adjacent pages instead, and was hit with a bolt of inspiration when I realized I had tempeh in my fridge. Three recipes, a truckload of dirty dishes, and an hour later, I emerged from my kitchen flour-dusted, sweaty, and triumphant.

As it turns out, making vegan biscuits and gravy is quite an endeavor. But despite the fact that I wrecked my kitchen, and even though some things came out imperfect, this is SO worth making. My modifications were minor, but as always, I’ll show you how I made it. First up: from-scratch vegan baking powder biscuits.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3T shortening
2T Earth Balance
2/3 cup plain soymilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet and set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the shortening and Earth Balance into the flour with a pastry blender (or two knives, or your fingers).

Add the soymilk to form a soft dough, and scatter some flour on your countertop. Mix well and pat out until it’s roughly 1/2 inch thick. Flour the rim of a glass (or use a biscuit or round cookie cutter) and cut out 2-inch rounds. Keep smooshing the dough back together to get as many biscuits as you can out of it.

Place the biscuits on your cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

But hold it right there! Be very, very careful here. Remember how, in my last entry, I told you that I always forget that my oven runs hot? Well, in this case, it ran SUPER hot. I ended up kicking myself for not checking on them at the 10 minute mark. I had them in there for 12 minutes, and they burned :( There’s no getting around it, I have to use a sad face to express how I felt when I pulled them out.

But you know what, not everything always goes according to plan in cooking. Imperfection comes with the territory. So I figured, hey, they’re a little too brown on the outside, but so what? Inside they were still soft, and I’ve never minded my bready foods a little overdone. No use crying over spilled (soy)milk. They were tasty, and that’s all that matters.

Meanwhile, I was making tempeh sausage crumbles.

8-oz. pkg tempeh
1T fennel seeds
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried sage
2 cloves garlic, minced
2T soy sauce
1 tsp olive oil
Splash of lemon juice

In a small saucepan, crumble the tempeh and add enough water to just barely cover it. Over medium-high heat, simmer the tempeh until most of the water is absorbed, about 12-15 minutes. Drain the remaining water, if there is any, and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

This recipe is incredible. The sausage flavor is duplicated impeccably, and goes amazingly well with the chewy tempeh. The smell will blow you away. It is just too good—and versatile, too. There are so many possibilities for usage: in pasta sauce, on pizza, in casseroles…my head swims. It made quite a bit, so I actually set aside about 1/3 cup to add to my spaghetti the following day.

While that simmered on the stove, and as my biscuits baked, I was ALSO making gravy.

1 can cannellini/navy beans, drained and rinsed
1T olive oil
1/4-1/3 cup water (or vegetable broth)
1/2 tsp salt
A few dashes of black pepper
A dash of dried sage

Puree the beans with the olive oil and water in a blender (or a food processor, which I probably should have used instead) until relatively smooth. I found that I had to add more water to get it liquefied, about 1/3 of a cup total in the end.

Not very appetizing at this point, I gotta tell ya. But it will be: pour the gravy into the saucepan with the tempeh crumbles, and add the salt, pepper, and sage. Heat through on medium-low for a few minutes. At this point I had to add a little extra water again to thin it out. But oh, baby...

Overbrowned biscuits couldn’t ruin this; no way. I gratefully sat down to comfort food at its finest, with that added ray of satisfaction that can only come from toiling in one’s own kitchen.

Healthy, homemade, and vegan—if you ask me, it’s the best triptych in the culinary world.

PS—I'm running my first marathon tomorrow- wish me luck!

Yield: 10 biscuits. Per biscuit: 150 calories, 6.6g fat (2.3g sat), 19g carbs, 2g fiber, 3g protein.
Yield: 4 servings gravy. Per serving: 240 calories, 9.5g fat (1.7g sat), 23.5g carbs, 7.6g fiber, 18g protein.

If you like this, you might also like...
Tempeh bolognese

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