Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Geek for Greek

I really like Greek food. It has a great balance of fresh, filling flavors. However, the enjoyable chickpea can become like the last guest at your party overstaying its welcome in your meal repertoire sneaking in the hummus and falafel staples of vegan/vegetarian Greek dining. You may crave something new, and your in luck because Viana offers a vegan gyro alternative (seitan) that is available at Whole Foods Market. It's salty, gets a nice crunch when pan-fried and is oh-so-satisfying in a pinch. I will definitely get it again, but wish it was less salty.

I changed up my go-to "greek salad with hummus" by substituting reheated pan-fried Viana gyro seitan for the hummus. I like tzatzki's cooling freshness as an offset to the salty spiciness of gyro, so I made it as a dressing with vegan yogurt, lemon juice, cucumber, loads of fresh dill and garlic. The salad was a big bowl of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers and white onions.

If you can't get your hands on Viana's gyro alternative, you could try this vegan gyro and tzatzki recipe

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hot Soup

We went on a bit of a South Indian adventure tonight in the kitchen with a friend. He suggested we make Peppertrail's Spicy Shallot Soup which has shallots, tamarind paste, curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric and chili peppers. I loved the idea of trying an Indian spin on something I knew: french onion soup.

Our soup was spicy, maybe too spicy for some. It had 16 thai chili peppers! The recipe says spice to taste, but my fiance, Mr. five-alarm-doesn't-get-my-tongue-out-of-bed-I'm-chasing-the-spice-dragon, was in charge of the peppers. I picked out the peppers from my bowl and actually didn't find the broth too spicy. My tastebuds were having more fun with the sour from the tamarind and the distinctive flavor of curry leaves.

 Don't be fooled, curry leaves don't taste anything like curry powder. In fact, there's a misconception about curry that I learned about from Raghavan Iyer at the 2011 Minnesota Garlic Festival : curry is a western definition of an Indian word to describe sauce.  It's hard for me to describe how they taste, except to say if you've had South Indian food and wondered what that unique punch of flavor was I would bet it was curry leaf. Some describe it as lemony; while, others "a slightly bitter backbone for other flavors." I guess it's hard to find fresh curry leaves in the US, so the fact our friend has a plant and brought them to share was a great treat.

You may be more familiar with tamarind's brownish red color and sweet and sour taste. Tamarind comes in many forms in the store, but starts its life as an acidic fruit in a large, long tan pod. Our friend had it in a pressed block which is prized for tasting more like fresh tamarind than the other option (i.e. paste.) We simply boiled the amount we needed and then used a strainer to turn the reconstituted pulp from the block into a paste. If you have tamarind concentrate you can use it to remove tarnish on brass and copper. :)

In the end, we didn't love the soup, but exploring new ingredients and enjoying flavors at home that we usually only experience in restaurants was fun. I'm guessing if we had more experience with the recipe and ingredients the flavors might have been more pronounced.

 In addition to the main dish, we quick sauteed broccoli and brussel sprouts with turmeric, oil, black mustard seeds, garlic and salt which was a twist on our usual oven-roasted approach and really tasty.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

So Saucy!

Lunch salads with my fiance are fun! The winter crunch salad was tasty and satisfying (and a LOT of veggies). Today was his turn and he made "salad with peanut sauce" using the scrumptious How to Cook Everything Peanut Sauce Recipe. This sauce is so ridiculously good. I think you could eat wood, despite what Stephen Colbert says, if you covered it in peanut sauce.

First, salad sans peanut sauce. Looks tasty with the spinach, cabbage, red and green bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots and green onions. Also looks healthy....too healthy. My inner demons are saying "aw man, eating veggies stinks."

Peanut sauce to the rescue!!! It's not just peanut butter, but also lemongrass, garlic, coconut milk, chilis, deliciousness to infinity and beyond. Heat it up and smother the veggies and ta-da these veggies are transformed into something that doesn't look like a veggie salad, yet is chock-full of vegetables.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter Crunch Time

So, it's ubiquitous with the New Year to want to eat healthier. In that way, I guess I'm a schmuck because one of my goals is to try to eat salads for lunches. Not bird food salads, but salads worthy of a meal (and lighter fare than if I weren't eating a salad.)

I thought it would be fun to mix things up with my fiance and take turns making the lunch salads. He's all about the vegetables, so this is right up his alley. For the first salad, I made Whole Foods' Winter Crunch Salad over baby spinach with my own version of balsamic vinaigrette and because I was lazy some leftover roasted nuts from the holidays (I cherish my raw cashews too much to roast them!)

Three primary reasons I'm opting for us making the salads versus getting them at the grocery store salad bar or local restaurant each day:

1) Cost
$7.99/lb seems to be the going rate for a salad bar in my neck of the woods. When you start adding hummus  which apparently weighs the same as wet cement, you're talking a $8+ salad. Add a drink and the temptation of the bakery, and this just isn't a winning solution for me.

2) Quality
When I was a wee lass making it big in Boston, I got a $6 greek salad with pita pretty much every workday and life was alright. Fast forward to now, and the occasional greek salad sans pita is costing me $8.50 AND today I got a frozen cherry tomato which is disgusting in case you were wondering. #FAIL.

3) Time
I like to cook and invent in the kitchen. I do not like to get up early or take an extended break in the middle of a busy work day. Packing a lunch affords me the luxury of prepping the food on my time which works best for me.

I'm scouring the internet and recipe books for inspiration. Please share if you have a plant-based salad I should add to the rotation!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Home Fries

Over the New Year's holiday, we're hosting my fiance's family at our home for the first time. We were excited to share with them the house and lives we're building together. Well, we didn't build the house (or really even paint the walls), but we do pay the mortgage. We were also excited to share some of our favorite veg-friendly food spots and recipes which has been fun.

Mid-week it was time for a low-key day around the house. I whipped up this eggplant fries recipe based loosely on something my host in Michigan had made for me. Her's turned out much better, but mine still tasted great (and had me coming back for thirds.) For those of you who follow the blog, and wonder who was this hostess with the mostest...scroll to the bottom for a photo reveal of my host!

Eggplant Fries

2 medium sized eggplants
1 pkg savory seasoned bread crumbs (for stuffing/dressing)
6 tsp Ener-G egg replacer
8 T warm water
oil spray

Tal Ronnen's Chipotle Cream (requires soaking cashews overnight)

Preheat oven to 450 and line cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Peel eggplant and cut into long 1/2 inch thick slices. Place eggplant slices in a colander in the sink and salt liberally. Let the eggplant "sweat" for 30 minutes to reduce bitterness and tenderize. Rinse eggplant and pat dry. While the eggplant sweats, use the food processor to crush up the bread crumbs to panko or fine crumb size and put in a medium sized bowl. Mix Ener-G egg replacer and warm water in a cereal bowl. Slice the eggplant into fries (~ 1/2 in x 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch), dip in egg replacer and roll in bread crumbs and place on cookie sheet. When you've filled the cookie sheet, lightly spray fries with oil and place in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes. You can turn them midway through, but don't need to. I had 3 large cookie sheets worth of fries from my eggplants. Serve with chipotle cream for an easy snack that is good right out of the oven or at room temperature.

Now for the big reveal..... my Michigan host...eating some of the very eggplant fries that inspired these.....

Alright, that's one of my hosts: Sam. The other host was the better cook, but camera shy :)