Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pupusas with Spicy Beer-and-Lime Roasted Summer Squash

You may notice that this picture, unlike all the others on this blog, was not taken on either my front or back porch, but instead on my friend Chris's back porch, which happens to look out over a lake. I was making pupusas for a lake party, more specifically a going-away party for myself and another friend, who was also getting ready to leave for school overseas.

These pupusas, while delicious, were an example of poor planning. There's a reason people don't cook at parties. I spent so long making the fresh salsa, prepping the vegetables, cooking the vegetables, forming the pupusas, and finally cooking them, that I spent hours alone by myself in the kitchen listening to Chris's Beatles mix that, thoughtfully, he left on for me.

Usually I don't mind that so much, since I spend a lot of time alone in the kitchen cooking and listening to music, but I did miss a lot of time on the lake with friends and could have gotten significantly more sun and floated for significantly longer on the lake with a beer in my hand if I'd just done my prep work before. Lesson learned.

These are best with some really flavorful salsa or guacamole, beer, and friends. I highly suggest Sun, and Lake if you can get it.

Pupusa Dough

Traditional pupusa dough is just masa harina, water, and sometimes salt. If you love masa dough like I do (I always eat little pinches of it while I'm making tamales), then you may prefer to reduce or leave out the salt and cayenne, but even I think these are a little better with more flavor, because they're so thick (also, they lack the shortening and butter content that makes tamale dough so rich). A really flavorful filling will make them fantastic.

2 c. masa harina (Maseca is the brand I use)
1 1/2 c. warm water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Spicy Beer and Lime Marinade

1 bottle of a Mexican beer, whatever you like best, but not too dark
2-3 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce, or more to taste (Tabasco works just fine)
1/8-1/4 c. lime juice, to taste
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil

About 1/2 lbs of squash (zucchini, pattypan, crookneck, or whatever looks good), diced
1 small white onion, diced

In a large bowl, combine the marinade ingredients, mixing well. Smell, taste, and adjust according to your preferences. Marinate the diced squash and onions for 30 minutes to an hour, turning regularly with your hands to fully coat. Heat a lightly-oiled pan to medium-high and saute the squash in a single layer, reserving the marinade. Divide the mixture into batches if there's too much. Once the pieces begin to get a little browned, drizzle in some marinade and let it simmer. As the liquid is absorbed, taste the squash. Add more marinade if you can, trying to balance the intensity of the flavor with the texture of the squash. It won't cook much more when you pan-fry the pupusas, but you don't want it falling apart while you try to form them, either.

Don't try to mix the masa dough until the squash is done. It dries out so quickly, and the squash will need to cool a little so you can handle it anyway. Before you get started, set out a little dish of oil with which to brush the pupusas when you finish forming them

Mix the masa, salt and cayenne well, then add the water, mixing thoroughly. You may need to add a little more water as you go if it dries out and becomes difficult to handle, or you can wet your hands to smooth over any cracks in your little pupusa patties.

Divide the dough into balls bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball; the dough ball should flatten out to about 1/4 inch thick and a little wider than your palm. Take a dough ball and begin to work it into a bowl shape, using the palm of your hand to help form it and keep it from splitting apart. As it gets larger, it may work for you to start using both hands, with the pupusa cupped in your hands (cupped like you're trying to hold water), slowly turning it as you go. Try to keep the pupusa a consistent width.

When you think it's done, grab a little handful of the filling, about several tablespoons, and put it right in the middle of your little bowl. Seal up the top edge over the filling, pressing and smoothing the sides of the pupusa until it is a solid cake. Continue to work the pupusa into a rounder shape, smoothing over any cracks as you go. If you need to, you can usually pinch off a little bit of dough from the ends; when you sealed your pupusa it was probably shaped like a football, and the tips are probably just masa, but be careful not to break the whole thing open.

That process sounds like it takes forever, and it may the first time, but you'll get the hang of it. Forming pupusas can be tricky, and if you need a visual aid, this video is cute and helpful. And even though they do spend a lot of the time on the filling, Abuelita clearly knows what she's doing.

So, as you finish forming each pupusa, brush it top and bottom with oil and set it gently on a non-stick surface covered with a towel to keep them from drying out. You can brush them with oil again and smooth over any cracks if you need to before you fry them, so don't worry. As you get close to being done, heat up a pan to medium-medium high, depending on the kind of pan. Pupusas are cooked in a dry pan, traditionally, but a little oil wouldn't hurt if charring things makes you nervous. The video addresses this, too.)

When the pan is fully heated, test the heat with a little bit of masa dough to make sure that it doesn't burn immediately, or adhere, or whatever. You want the pupusas to be able to cook for a little while without burning, so all the dough gets cooked and you get a nice crisp golden crust with some nice charring. You can do about 4 at a time, depending on the pan. Scoot them around to keep them from sticking or burning, and check the bottoms once in a while so you can flip them at the right time. I like to start with just one, so I get a handle on things before I risk a whole batch. Also so I can have a snack while I cook.

Serve with more Mexican beer and a homemade fresh salsa or guacamole, or as in the picture above, a weird (but delicious!) hybrid of salsa and guacamole. People tend to have strong opinions about how to make salsa and guacamole, so I'll leave that to you.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Post at Don't Mess With My Mise

Over on Don't Mess With My Mise, I've got a new post up about a really great restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, why we all go out to eat, and what makes a good chef (that bit is perhaps more subjective than the rest).

The Cheese Pizza Debate, Power Outages, and Nashville's City House 

Enjoy, and I'll look forward to your feedback!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ginger-Mint Juleps for these 98-degree summer days we keep having

To buy this print on Etsy, click here
The inspiration  for a recipe can come from all kinds of places - a really beautiful eggplant, a day when you just desperately want something with cardamom, an episode of some cooking show featuring a dish you just know you could do better - but most of the time, for me anyway, the sources of my ideas are pretty ephemeral. Not this time. This time it was, literally, written on the wall.

Outside of home, New Orleans is my favorite city. I've been about 7 or 8 times at this point, and every visit just makes me love it more. Dirty, smellin' like ass, constantly wet, and so deeply beautiful and completely human - of course I love it. If you have ever looked at a planned community and felt warmed  by a sense of security and order, New Orleans is probably not for you. Another thing about the Crescent City - it loves a good drink.

The mural above is on a wall on Decatur (a.k.a. Rue de la Levee) , the street that runs along the Mississippi and anchoring the French Quarter. Emerson's was a drug company that made most of its money from BromoSeltzer, so I'm guessing that their Ginger-Mint Julep was something a bit different from mine. Still, I thought the fresh and spicy flavors of ginger would blend well with the minty, syrupy-sweet classic julep, so off I went, splashing bourbon around my kitchen trying to make extracts, spattering ginger-infused simple syrup all over the stove, and generally having a grand old time. NOLA would be proud.

After some experimenting, I came up with a combination of fresh and infused mint and ginger flavors that I think works well. The ginger is not the dominant flavor, but it does add a warm, ever-so-slightly spicy edge to all the minty bourbon sweetness. I made a big batch of both the ginger simple syrup and the mint extract, which isn't a bad idea if you want to be able to whip up a specialty cocktail whenever you want. Also, if you can make a pitcher in advance of a party or a big night in, the flavors will benefit from having a chance to meld, with both the torn mint leaves and grated fresh ginger adding some complexity, freshness, and intensity to the drink.

Ginger-Mint Julep
Amounts given are per serving; multiply as desired.

2.5 oz. bourbon 
About 3/4-1 tsp. mint extract (there is a lot of variation in the strength of homemade extracts, so be sure to taste and adjust. Recipe below)
About 1 Tbsp. ginger-infused simple syrup - ditto above caveat about variation
1/8 tsp. freshly grated ginger (or more, if you're me)
1 sprig fresh mint, leaves torn

Fill a collins glass or metal julep cup with crushed ice. Top with torn mint leaves. In a shaker, combine bourbon, mint extract, ginger syrup and grated ginger, then pour over the ice. Garnish with a mint sprig (and candied ginger from syrup, if it's pretty enough). 

If possible, you can prepare a pitcher in advance. Combine all ingredients except torn mint leaves in a pitcher (this way the grated ginger gets to soak a bit and plays a bigger role), taste and adjust, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

For mint extract: 
Plan on at least 4 sprigs of mint per serving, excluding garnish and fresh leaves for each drink. Wash mint and remove leaves. Place leaves in a small casserole dish or some other non-plastic flat-bottomed container, then pour enough bourbon over the leaves to barely cover them. With a pestle or whatever utensil you thing will work, crush the leaves a bit. Let them soak for about 15 minutes, then pull them out and squeeze them in a cheesecloth or paper towel or even just your hands. put them back in and let them soak longer. Repeat process a couple of times, until the liquid has taken on a strong taste and smell of mint. Strain. Will keep well, store in a glass jar.

For ginger-infused simple syrup:
The basic simple syrup recipe is 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water, yielding roughly 1 1/2 cups of liquid. At those measurements, 6-7 slices of ginger should do it, but next time I make it I plan to add more to see if I can get a more intense flavor. Don't be too afraid of overdoing it with the ginger, because it will be diluted by the bourbon, ice, and mint extract.

For some more of my NOLA pictures, pop on over to my food+travel project  Don't Mess With My Mise... here's a little sample.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy July! Enjoy a little Niçoise street food - Steamed Tempeh Pan Bagnat

Is it un-American to make anything except American food on the fourth of July? Setting aside, of course, the debate about whether there is any truly American food except corn with, like, walnuts and apple and maple syrup (undoubtedly all stuffed in to a pumpkin), trying to tease out what foods have spent enough time evolving in the New World to be considered American is a fruitless (ha) effort. Entire cities make my point for me - New York's beloved bagels or cannoli , beignets and cafe au lait in New Orleans, New Mexican posole. More than that, I think trying to figure out what is and isn't American is kind of missing the point of America in general.

All that to say, I made French food on the fourth of July. Don't come after me.

It's not a political statement, I just really want to make socca, and I thought it would be the perfect food to make as a snack while grilling out with my family. And if I'm making socca, I might as well go full Niçoise and do a pan bagnat sandwich as well. With rosé. Obviously.

I'll leave the socca for another time, because it didn't turn out exactly like I wanted, or anything at all like I wanted. That may be my fault, because I ran out of time to make it on the day I made the batter, so it sat around for...a bit. It is supposed to rest for a while, but only a couple hours - even overnight - not four days. Needless to say, by the time I got around to making it, it had gotten a little ferment-y. At the time, I thought, well, they let injera batter ferment in the Ethiopian heat, and this has been in the fridge, so surely it's fine. I'll take another pass at socca, but I'm beginning to suspect that I just don't like chickpea flour that much. A friend recently suggested that it's better fried, so I may do a breading with it soon, but for now I'm taking a hiatus.

While the socca was underwhelming, my steamed-tempeh pan bagnat was a spectacular success. Pan bagnat means, literally, "bathed bread," so this is a very wet salad that would be well served over a bed of lettuce as a tempeh Niçoise salad, but is traditionally paired with a very crusty baguette or bun which absorbs some of the delicious vinaigrette that seasons the ingredients. The sandwiches are also traditionally pressed and rested, again to enhance the absorption of the liquids. I tried that the first time I made it, but the home-made roll I used didn't quite hold up to it. The second time, I used a nice, crusty baguette, which performed a little better. I also served to a group of friends with little slices of baguette, and it went over very well, in spite of leaking all over everyone.

Traditionally, pan bagnat is made with tuna, so I used steamed tempeh to provide that firm texture with a touch of chewiness. The salad benefits from a little marinating, so it will continue to taste better as it sits in the fridge for a day or two. Good quality olives are key; find a grocery store with an olive bar if you live in or near suburbia, or a specialty shop if you're more urban. Also, I would marinate the onions in red wine vinegar, olive oil, and black pepper for at least several hours before you make the rest of the salad.

Steamed Tempeh Niçoise for Pan Bagnat
Makes about 8 sandwiches  or about 6 dinner-sized salads

2 8-oz packages of tempeh (for this I used WestSoy's original, which is lighter in color than the 5-grain that I  usually use, and looks great with the bright-colored vegetables)
1/2 c. red wine vinegar for tempeh marinade
1/2 c. olive oil for tempeh marinade
1/8 c. lemon juice for tempeh marinade
1 Tbsp. dulse flakes (optional - add slight seafood flavor, but won't make a big difference if you don't have them on hand)

1/2 medium onion, diced
1/4 c. red wine vinegar for onion marinade
1/4 c. olive oil for onion marinade
1/8 tsp. black pepper for onion marinade

1 small cucumber, diced

2 small tomatoes, diced

1 1/4 c. pitted green and kalamata olives, chopped (yields about 1 c. chopped)

Extra red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper for dressing the salad

Your favorite kind of lettuce, torn into pieces for the sandwich or in larger leaves as a bed for the salad


Ideally, marinate the diced onion in red wine vinegar, olive oil and black pepper for at least several hours and up to overnight before you prepare the salad.

Boil a good amount water in a large pot (one that has or can accommodate a steamer basket). With the basket in place, the water should not come within something like 3 inches of the basket, but fill the pot as much as possible so that you don't risk boiling it all away. As the water comes to a boil (leaving the lid on will make this happen more quickly), cut the tempeh in half lengthwise and then slice into pieces between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Arrange tempeh in a single layer in the steamer basket.

Begin to prep your vegetables while the water comes to a boil. Chop cucumber, tomato, and olives, and if not prepared in advance, the onion. When the water is boiling, put the steamer basket with tempeh into the pot, cover, and steam for 10-15 minutes, until softened but not falling apart. Check a couple of times for texture if you need to. When tempeh is done, pull the basket out of the pot and set it somewhere that it can cool.

When tempeh has cooled, cut the slices into cubes and place in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice, then mix. Then drizzle generously with red wine vinegar and olive oil, following the guidelines above but using more if you feel you need to. Mix thoroughly but gently with your hands, trying not to break up the tempeh too much, and add dulse flakes if desired. Let the tempeh marinate for about 10 minutes, or whatever time you have (you may still be chopping vegetables). When it's done, add all the chopped vegetables, including the onion and its marinating liquid. Mix gently and drizzle with red wine vinegar, olive oil, and lemon juice to taste, adding black pepper as needed.

For salade Niçoise, spoon salad over lettuce leaves in a shallow soup bowl.

For pan bagnat, cut up a baguette into sandwich-sized lengths and cut in half, leaving a "hinge" intact. You can remove some of the bread from the inside to make room if you like (if you do, mop up some of the vinaigrette with the soft bread bits you pull out - a real perk of being the cook). Lay some torn pieces of lettuce across the sandwich, and spoon in the generous amounts of the salad. Garnish with lots of napkins.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mom's Vegan Banana Bread

Where I'm from, banana bread is a staple. I know this isn't a very exciting recipe, but when a neighbor comes over for coffee or you need something to take to a friend when a pet has died, good banana bread is there for you. It may not be impressive, but it is familiar and comforting. It is the baking version of watching a favorite old movie - it makes you feel nice and you don't have to think about it. It's You've Got Mail.

It is also the traditional use for that last banana that got too soft before you had a chance to eat it - let leftover bananas get good and dappled-brown, then freeze them until you have enough to make banana bread. The full loaves also freeze really well, so double the recipe and have one to defrost when old Fido finally bites it.

This is my mother's recipe; she veganized it herself, too (the asides are mine), so she deserves full credit.

Mom's Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
5 Tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
2/3 c. sugar
3 tsp. Ener-G egg replacer prepared with 4 Tbsp. water
1 c. mashed very ripe banana (about 2 bananas - better more than less, I think, so if your two bananas go a little bit over or you have 3 to use and they make up slightly more than this, toss them in. It will add more moisture, though, so compensate with a little more flour if you need to)
1/2 - 2/3 c. walnuts

Let all ingredients get to room temperature before combining.  Preheat oven to 375 and grease a loaf pan.

Thoroughly mix flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

In a separate bowl, beat the sugar into the Earth Balance with a mixer on high speed until it lightens in color and weight. Add the flour mixture bit by bit and continue blending until it's all added, then gradually beat in the egg replacer.

With a rubber spatula or spoon, fold in the banana and nuts until just combined, then pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly.

Bake 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool it in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing it to cool completely on a rack (if it is still to soft and hot when you try to unmold it, it is likely to break apart.)

Thanks, Mom!


Monday, June 13, 2011

Knoxville's Market Square Farmer's Market

Hello all! I don't have a recipe for you today, but I feel pretty bad about having gone so long without posting. It's not for lack of work -I have 15 drafts for recipes right now, some almost complete and others still in their seminal stages, several where I've made the dish once or twice and still have some tweaking to do.

So today, instead of a recipe, I submit as a peace offering some farmer's market pictures. Saturday mornings in Market Square are my favorite time of the week, even though I only get off work for about one every six months. Enjoy!

Janine Musick with her beautiful lettuces
Milkmaid-chic at Cruze Dairy Farm
Read the flavors - all handmade and great inspiration for some vegan alternatives
Knoxvillians - find this woman and buy her lip balm. I have the mint, and I love it!
So pretty - I love the slight contrast between the blues

Garlic scapes - locally grown, easy to incorporate, but still seem exotic
Jim Smith from Rushy Springs Farm is they guy to talk to about peppers, herbs, and garlic varieties. Basically all the stuff that makes food taste great. Don't let him talk you in to tasting the wormwood.
More of Jim's wares, including his hot sauces
I'm going to smuggle some of his chili powders into Scotland when I go
Read the sign for humorous quotation marks

Art installation + urban garden in a public park
Aaaaand a pipe band. The Highland Games were coming up.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Barbecue Tempeh and Cole Slaw Sandwich with Roasted Root Vegetables

My dad was born on Mother's Day, 1949, as the fourth child of what would eventually become nine. For his mother, this timing may have been unwelcome, but it also means that once in a while, my family gets to celebrate Mother's Day and Dad's birthday at the same time.

This year, I worked Mother's Day brunch at the restaurant, one of our biggest shifts of the year, then came home to cook dinner for my parents. I let them pick whatever they wanted from my cookbooks, and this is what they chose. It worked out pretty well, and would be easy to recreate any time you want a hearty summer lunch or dinner.

The root vegetable salad is delicious hot, room temp, and even cold. I served the meal with an iced blueberry green tea, which I made by my favorite method of putting a bunch of water and tea bags in a clear gallon jug and leaving it in the sun on the porch for a while. I have a great sun tea recipe from my mom that I'll include soon, in celebration of summer.

The recipes for the barbecue tempeh and cole slaw came from Vegan Soul Kitchen, and the roasted roots recipe is from The Candle Cafe Cookbook, both on my Favorite Cookbooks page. Unfortunately I can't reprint them, because they are the product of someone else's creativity, but I will tell you a bit about them, with my modifications.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Sweet potatoes

You can adjust the proportions of these however you like, based on what you like best, but my favorite combo is one beet, several sweet potatoes, and 3 each of medium parsnips and medium carrots. The beet is so dominant that one is enough for me, but feel free to add more. Personally, if I'm going to do beets, I'd rather just go all-in and do a baked glazed beet salad. I also want to try braising beets in Earth Balance and coconut milk, but that's just an idea, so proceed with caution.

Peel and dice all your veggies, making the sweet potato pieces larger than the others, because they will get softer than any of the others. Toss all with some oil of your choosing and plenty of fresh grated ginger (or not; surely you know by now how I love my ginger)

Bake in a shallow pan for about 45 minutes at 350, turning once about half-way through.

BBQ Tempeh Sandwich with Cole Slaw

There are so many wonderful barbecue sauce recipes, and to be honest this one is not fantastic, so use whatever sauce recipe you like best. Put 1/2-inch-thick slices of tempeh in the smallest baking dish that will allow them to fit comfortably in one layer, then pour the sauce over them. Cover and bake at 350 for about an hour.

You can bake for a bit and then grill, which is great if there's other grilling going on, but I don't know that it adds enough to make it worth firing up the grill just for this. If you were going to, though, you should do the sandwiches on focaccia and grill the bread for a moment, too.

Cole slaw is not difficult to make, and it is so flexible and delicious when it's made fresh, that you should never ever buy it pre-prepared in a store. At least that's my opinion. Also, a couple of heads of cabbage are undoubtedly going to be cheaper than a little tub of flavorless, mayonnaisey sludge. Yes, I do feel strongly about this, in case you were picking up on that. Here's what I used for this one:

Thinly-sliced green cabbage
Thinly-sliced red cabbage
Shredded carrots
Dijon mustard (you could use a whole-seed mustard or other, but avoid anything too smooth or too yellow)
Apple cider vinegar (use your favorite, but I would caution against anything too dark or strong, at least for this recipe)
Agave nectar
Olive oil
Sesame seeds (I am not a caraway person, but I think having little seed in there is nice, so this is a great alternative)

In creating your own slaw, you could include or substitute things like parsnips or jicama, use a little freshly-grated horseradish, or any number of other things. One theory would be to pick your spices, then let the oil, vinegar and veg elements fall into line behind it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Soup Wars: Tom Kha kicks Chicken Soup's Ass Kung-Fu Style

Okay, so I know kung-fu is Chinese, but "muay-thai-style" (Thailand's signature martial art and national sport) wouldn't have been as funny.

Tom Kha is a Thai (and Laotian, or Lao) soup that is warming, filling, a little spicy, and full of hearty vegetables and tofu - the perfect contender for the "I feel terrible and all I want is soup and old episodes of West Wing" crown. The fragrant lemongrass and galanga broth, with tons of coconut milk added to make it creamy and rich, is the perfect thing to engage the dulled senses of a couch-dwelling invalid, while spicy prik pao sauce (which gives you control over how much spice you want) will clean out a congested nose and chest.

Alternately, if you're at the peak of health and all of your senses are at their sharpest, tom kha is impressive - its flavor is complex and distinctive, the lemongrass and galanga give it a fantastic scent, and the slightly translucent creamy broth with tiny beads of red oil from the prik pao is visually satisfying. Can you tell that I'm in love? Here's the bowl that did it, from Taste of Thai in Knoxville:

Note that I ate about half of it before I remembered to take a picture of it.

Just before I discovered tom kha, my brother had been in Thailand for about a month, and when he returned, he brought me back what he knew I'd like best - Thai spices. He also brought my dad the dried ingredients for tom yam, which shares the broth base with tom kha. Read the directions; my favorite is step 4.

 He really loved his time in Thailand, and came back with so many wonderful stories and such a respect for the people there. He also happens to be a wonderful photographer, so stick around after the recipe for some of my favorite pictures from his trip. Here's a teaser:

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer
 Just a note - most tom kha recipes use fish sauce, which I've replaced with tamari, so if you are at a Thai restaurant, you'll want to check with them (though they'll almost certainly be using the fish sauce). This is the main reason I've made so many batches trying to perfect this recipe at home.

If you don't need this much, reduce the recipe. Leftovers lose some flavor, and though you can perk it up by adding some more fresh lime juice, it's much better fresh. Once you've made it a couple of times, this soup is extremely easy, and such a treat! Make some rice to go with it - my favorite way to eat it is by dipping a spoonful of rice into the soup so that it absorbs some liquid and then eating that. Extraordinarily good!

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer
Tom Kha
Serves about 6

6 c. coconut milk
3 c. water or vegetable stock
6 stalks of lemongrass
12 thin slices of galanga (a.k.a galangal or garlanga)
5 Tbsp. tamari (or other soy sauce, but you'll need a bit more - just use them to taste and watch the saltiness)
2 Tbsp. palm sugar or raw sugar
6 kaffir lime leaves, torn (these have been hard for me to find, so if you can't, just leave them out)
1/2 tsp. nam prik pao (Thai fried chili paste - really cheap at almost any Asian grocery, and very versatile)
6-10 cremini mushrooms or your favorite kind, sliced thinly
1 small carrot, thinly sliced (a mandoline would be ideal for this)
1 small crown of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
12-oz package of fried tofu (again, easy to find at an Asian market)
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro (don't try to substitute dried seasoning; the wilted leaf is the goal)
2 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

 First, thoroughly rinse the lemongrass and galanga. If the outermost leaf of the lemongrass has any discoloration or moldiness, remove it and rinse the remaining stalk. The waxy skin of the galanga can get a little slimy, so rinse very thoroughly.
Lemongrass, pounded and cut

Cut off the very end of each stalk of lemongrass, about the last 1/4" or 1/2". On a solid surface, use a heavy object like a rolling pin to carefully pound the length of the lemongrass stalk to break up the fibrous inside layers and release the flavor. You don't need to destroy them, just soften them up. When that's done, cut the stalks into 2-inch pieces, ending when the stalk begins to get loose and grassy. Many recipes will say to use only the white bit, but it's not a clear transition and I think a good 4 inches more are perfectly usable.

Galanga, whole and sliced
The galanga is woody and fibrous, so be careful when you cut it because it is very tough. Cut about 12 thin slices, or the equivalent in smaller angular pieces, which you will undoubtedly have to cut because the galanga root is very knobbly and irregular.

If you're in doubt, use extra lemongrass and galanga. The only element of this soup that is difficult to correct as you go along is the broth, and if it is too weak, that will really affect the taste. Also,keep in mind that it will be heavily diluted by the coconut milk, so the first time you make it, you may want to go overboard a bit until you get a feel for how much you need.

Simmer the lemongrass and galanga in the 3 cups of water in a large pot with the lime leaves and sugar for about 15-20 minutes. While this is happening, prep your vegetables. Slice the mushrooms and carrots thinly, cut the broccoli into small florets. Slice the fried tofu into small strips, about 1/4-inch thick.

Add coconut milk, nam prik pao and soy sauce, and simmer another 5 minutes. When that's done, remove all the solids with a strainer or a slotted spoon. I forgot once, added all the vegetables, then had to pick out all of the stringy bits of lemongrass by hand - not fun, and likely to burn your fingers.

Add the carrots and tofu first, then the broccoli and mushrooms a couple of minutes later. Cook until vegetables are just becoming tender but are still crispy. Remove from heat, add lime juice and cilantro and stir. At this point, adjust seasonings as you need to - if it doesn't have that distinctive Tom Kha tang, you may need more lime juice. If you want more heat, add a little more prik pao.You may need to add more salt, though the soy sauce is likely enough. Serve hot.

Enjoy some travel photos while you dig in:

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

Photo courtesy of Mason Winsauer

My brother and his fiancee, Lauren Moore, with monkey

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Worth watching: Forks Over Knives Official Trailer

*** UPDATE*** I finally got a chance to see this, and I was very impressed. More often, you see ethical and environmental defenses of veganism, so this incredibly powerful health-based approach is a major contribution. My parents watched the film, as well, and my dad in particular was very struck by it, and motivated by the possibility of reducing the number of medications he takes and the other health effects of a plant-based diet.

I'm really looking forward to this film and I thought I'd share the trailer with you, even though it's a bit of a divergence from my normal content.

It's not coming to my city yet, but it may be coming to yours - click here to find out. I don't tend to be very vocal about why I'm vegan, and prefer to explain by cooking excellent food, but I do think that there are important reasons for a plant-based diet, and this film addresses a major one.

Thanks for listening, and as a reward you get my Tom Kha recipe next.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lotus, Part I: Baked Lotus Root in a Honey Ginger Glaze

Baked Lotus Root in a Honey-Ginger Glaze

I love potatoes. It could be that I come from Irish and German stock, both potato-hungry nations, or that I ate lots of delicious variations as a child, or that my plump pre-adolescent self identified somehow with their starchy roundness. Whatever it was, I have always been perfectly happy with a bowl of mashed potatoes as a meal.

Having said that, I'd like to make a case for cooking with a much wider variety of starchy vegetables, for enjoyment, excitement and a more nutritionally diverse diet. Not everyone has access to international produce; it's one thing to be able to find five-spice powder, but an entirely different thing to have to hunt down fresh birds-eye chilies or ripe durian (which, amazingly, I have seen at my local Asian grocery, Sunrise Supermarket, about which you will undoubtedly hear more). However, if you are lucky enough to have someone trying to sell you fresh lotus root, you should definitely take advantage of that. I don't want to ignore the major environmental and economical impact of importing international foods, but as I lean very heavily on local produce, I'm going to save that debate for another day.

Raw lotus root - unpeeled, peeled, and sliced

In fact, though it is much more well-known in Asian cuisine, lotus is also indigenous to the American South (though the lotus root I got at Sunrise definitely wasn't locally produced). When collected by locals in the freshwater bayous of Louisiana, lotus seeds are called graines à volers (pronounced grawn-uh-vo-LAY) in Cajun French or more colloquially, "Cajun peanuts," and serve as a convenient summer snack for bayou fisherman and guides, who can harvest the raised pods as they pass by in their boats. Before the Cajuns and Creoles, though, lotus seeds were a dietary staple of the Native Americans of south Louisiana, though unlike their Cajun brethren, they ate the root (technically a rhizome) as well,  most often baked.

When selecting lotus root, look for heavy pieces that are a light warm tan color with no soft spots and little discoloration. The pretty holes you see when you cut a cross-section run all the way through the length of the root and dry out easily, so look for ends that aren't too withered as an indication that most of the root will be usable.

In many traditional Asian cuisines lotus root and seeds are used medicinally, and are considered cooling, balancing influences. There may actually be something to that, as the lotus plant "thermoregulates" - heats or cools the air inside its flowers to make a more comfortable environment for pollinating insects.

Lotus root can be used in stir-fry or soups, pan-roasted, pickled, deep fried as chips, and even candied, and I plan to explore all of those options, but I'm going to start with something simple, easy, and impressive: baked lotus root in a honey-ginger glaze.

If you don't do honey (or don't have access to local honey), agave nectar will work just fine. I know a lot of people will disagree with me about this, but I don't think that every vegan should abstain from honey; if you feel strongly that using the bees for food production is inherently wrong, then more power to you, but I am personally very concerned about honeybee populations and live in an area with access to local, ethically produced honey on every corner, so I buy from small beekeepers who keep the bees healthy and out pollinating. Agave is a great substitute, but is a little thinner than honey, so always keep that in mind.

Grated fresh ginger

Baked Lotus Root in a Honey-Ginger Glaze
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

2 medium lotus roots
1/3 c. honey or 1/2 c. agave nectar
1 rounded Tbsp. freshly grated ginger

Preheat the oven to 375 and grease a baking sheet. Start by finely grating the ginger - if you keep your fresh ginger in the freezer like I do, it's just fine to grate it while it's frozen. It will seem a little soggy when you gather it up to put in the recipe, but as far as I can tell, that's not an issue.

Peel and slice the lotus root. If there's going to be a delay before you can dress the slices, or if you're making a large batch, keep the slices in a bowl of cold water with some vinegar added to keep the lotus from discoloring.

Remove the slices from the water and dry them briefly to remove excess moisture. In a large bowl, toss the slices with the honey and the grated ginger, making sure to coat them as fully as possible. When you're done, spread them in a single layer on the baking sheet and pour any glaze that remains in your bowl over the pieces.

Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, turn them over, and bake another 6-8 minutes. They cool somewhat quickly, so feel free to pull one out and sample for texture (but be careful, because I refuse to assume any liability for burned tongues). When they're done, take them out of the pan quickly, because the honey glaze will glue the slices down if you let them cool in the pan. I also suggest putting some water in the pan to let it soak while it's still warm, for the same reason.


Lotus Root.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Magnificent Brussels Sprouts - courtesy of my mom and Julia Child

I don't remember having Brussels sprouts at all as a child, though apparently we did. All I really knew about them was that people didn't seem to like them - every mention of them I'd ever heard treated them as a symbolic of the struggle of parents to make their children eat overcooked, tasteless vegetables. In fact, I heard a story recently about my friend's uncle who, as a child, dropped his unwanted sprouts through a hole in a hollow table leg so that when, decades later, the family had to take the table apart, they found dozens of shriveled Brussels sprouts. I don't remember ever expecting that they were bad - we ate loads of greens and cabbage-type-things - but I just didn't know. So, when I had them for the first time as an adult, they were a revelation.

Admittedly, no one in the world seems to love cabbage as much as I do, but I feel confident that this is objectively tasty. It's based on my mom's recipe, which flavors the sprouts with butter and breadcrumbs, but for the optimal color and texture, I've boiled them briefly then baked/braised à la Julia Child's method from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I know this isn't a terribly original approach; one friend insists that pan roasting is the only conceivable way to cook the sprouts, though I think millions of miserable 1950s children would beg to differ.  Even a fellow I got to talking to today at a restaurant bar took care to share with me his favorite recipe, which was remarkably like mine, only including Parmesan. Still, in a time when there's no shortage of culinary reinvention, there's a great deal of comfort and enjoyment to be had in the classics. When you're working with something so simple, the real glory is in the execution. The first time I tested this recipe, I put the butter over the breadcrumbs, and forgot to salt and pepper them while they were still naked, and that made all the difference. As usual, a little bit of technique goes a long, long way.

Magnificent Brussels Sprouts

2 lbs loose fresh Brussels sprouts (about 30 medium sprouts, as close in size as possible)
1 cup breadcrumbs
5 Tbsp. Earth Balance, melted
Sea salt
Freshly-cracked black pepper

Bring 7-8 quarts of salted water to a rapid boil. While you wait for it to boil, prep the sprouts. With a small knife, trim the base of the sprout to remove any unappealing-looking bits of stem. Pierce the base of the sprout with the tip of the knife to help the dense base cook more quickly. Remove any yellowish or wilty outer leaves. Rinse and drain in cold water. If you are using local and organic Brussels sprouts, home-grown ones, or any that may have been grown without any kind of anti-pest measure, you may want to soak them for 10 or 15 minutes in salted water to encourage any burrowing insects to extract themselves. After trimming the bases, you'll have some leaves that have fallen off, which you can use. You may want to save them for making veggie broth, but if you'd like to eat them now, you can blanch in the boiling water for a couple of minutes after you pull the sprouts out and eat them with some melted Earth Balance, a little salt and pepper, and even some leftover breadcrumbs. I tend to get peckish while I cook, so it's nice to have a little snack under the guise of preventing waste.

When your water is boiling rapidly, drop in your sprouts. Bring the water back up to a full boil as quickly as possible. Boil ("slowly," according to Julia - I imagine she means letting the water drop to a nice rolling boil rather than a more frantic, rapid boil) uncovered for 6-8 minutes, until almost tender. Remove and drain, then spread out in a single layer, not touching each other, on a clean towel to let them cool. Preheat your oven to 350. Melt the earth balance over medium-low heat on the stove or in the microwave.

When they've cooled and dried enough to handle, cut the sprouts in half lengthwise to get a nice cross-section. Rub some Earth Balance along the bottom of a pan with a cover or oven-safe casserole, whatever will hold your sprouts in a single layer. Place them in the pan with the cut sides up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle melted Earth Balance generously over the sprouts, then sprinkle with bread crumbs into each, trying to make an even layer. 

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, until the sprouts are tender. Serve immediately.

Brussels Sprouts

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup Good Enough to Serve to 50 People at a Rehearsal Dinner

About a month ago, I was browsing Foodgawker and came across a delicious-looking lentil soup. I have a real love of lentils, and am always looking for new treatments (however, as much as I love them, I will never, never make a 70s-style lentil loaf. Have some respect.), so I was very drawn to this Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup posted by afarmgirlsdabbles. In the blog post including this recipe, she describes a trip to Egypt to visit her sister, during which she reluctantly tried this soup, a local favorite, and was blown away. She was so impressed that, upon returning stateside, she recreated a soup with the rich, complex spice that Middle Eastern cuisines are so good at, accented by the bright flavor of lemon.
The original lentil soup as served in Cairo, with a glass of fresh strawberry juice and shawarma. Photo courtesy of afarmgirlsdabbles.
That very night, I made her soup, and had a similarly enthusiastic reaction. So, when I was called upon to help cook for the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of one of my closest friends, and was told that we were going to do a "Soup Bar" of 5 or 6 different soups to serve about 50 people, I jumped at the chance to include this. We served the soups in mismatched, over-sized coffee mugs with a choice of 4 or 5 different breads and a salad. The soup bar worked beautifully and, though my soup was a little more spicy than I had intended, it went over very well, particularly with the lentil-loving bride.

With the author's permission, here is that spectacular soup. I would add a bit more lemon than she suggests, but as she points out in her post, this soup is all about a "beautifully balanced, earthy, spicy heat" and preserving that balance is key. How much spice and lemon is dependent on the freshness of your spices, how long you simmer, how long you've soaked your lentils, etc., so this is a great opportunity to perfect your taste-and-adjust-spices skills. Just keep in mind that, as always, cumin needs to go at the end, because it will get very bitter if it is cooked for too long. Also, I highly suggest using red lentils. I'm sure the soup would still be delicious with green lentils, but the color and more delicate texture of the red lentils is ideal for this soup.

Also, please visit the original post at her blog to look at her gorgeous pictures of Cairo. I'm such a food+travel voyeur, and before too long, I'll be providing you some culinary travel experiences of my own. If all goes to plan and I get my student visa, I'll be in Scotland beginning in September for a Master's program at the University of Edinburgh, and who knows what exciting interpretations of local cuisine that will yield... seitan haggis? Kidding.

Without further ado,  

Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup 

Serves 6-8

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced into 1/4" pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large celery rib, diced into 1/4" pieces
1 large carrot, diced into 1/4" pieces
1 large baking potato, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces
1-1/4 c. lentils (red or green)
2 qts. vegetable broth
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. turmeric
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus additional lemon slices to serve alongside finished soup
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Over medium-high heat, in a large saucepan or small stockpot, heat the oil.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 or 3 minutes.  Add the celery and carrot and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add the potato, lentils, and vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until all the vegetables are very tender.  This should take 40 to 50 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches, using a blender, and return it back to the pot.  Or blend carefully right in the pot with an immersion blender.  Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  I'm not known for adding much salt to my food, but I found myself adding more than I thought I would to boost the flavors.  Just add a bit at a time, tasting after each addition.

Serve the soup hot with slices of fresh lemon on the side.  Some warm fresh pocket bread would also be good with this meal.

Again, thanks so much to afarmgirldabbles for the use of her recipe and picture! Visit her site for more great recipes. 


Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Easy Like Sunday Morning" Vegan Carrot Cake Pancakes

There's kind of a funny story behind these pancakes. I was over at a friend's house, and she wanted a quick and easy dinner, so she decided to make pancakes. She sent her husband to the store for ingredients, and I begged him to pick up some carrots for me to snack on as well because I just didn't think I could take all that sugar. When he got back, my friend started joking around about how to use the carrots... and suddenly exclaimed, "can you make CARROT CAKE PANCAKES?"

As it turns out, I can.

That night, we looked in to plain vegan pancake recipes on line, and then I added spices, shredded carrot, and raisins, and what we came up with was pretty great. When I tried to recreate them at home, however, the incredible 6 tablespoons (!) of baking powder that the original recipe had required suddenly became a big problem. After several iterations, and a great deal of tweaking, here is my final recipe: perfected today, on one of the first sunny, temperate Sundays of the season, hence the name. A lot of the magic is in the technique; because the rising depends on the baking powder, so keeping those nice little bubbles intact is key. Read on...

"Easy Like Sunday Morning" Vegan Carrot Cake Pancakes

Dry Ingredients
     3 c. flour
     3/4 tsp. salt
     3 Tbsp. baking powder
     6 Tbsp. sugar
     3 tsp. cinnamon
     1 tsp. nutmeg

Wet Ingredients
     3 c. soymilk (plain, original, or vanilla, depending on how much extra sweetness you want. I work with plain, myself, but if you only had vanilla, you could decrease the granulated sugar a bit to adjust for it)
     6 Tbsp. oil
     2 tsp. vanilla
     1 c. golden raisins, rinsed to remove bits and stems, then soaked in hot water to soften them
     2 c. grated carrot, drained

Combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly with your hands, making sure to break up the little clumps that baking powder tends to form. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the vanilla into the soy milk, then do the same with the oil. When they're thoroughly mixed, fold in the carrot and raisins, combining well.

Preheat a pan to medium/medium high or a skillet to 375ish. If that seems too hot as you make your first pancake, go ahead and adjust to what you think is best.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, then pour the wet ingredients into the well. Firmly and quickly fold the wet ingredients into the dry, using as few strokes as possible, but combining thoroughly. You should be able to do this rather quickly, and if there are a few little bumps, don't worry about it. Over-mixing will break up the bubbles formed by the baking powder and make your pancakes too dense and flat.

When your pan is preheated, spray with canola oil. The batter will be thick and a bit clumpy, so it will be tempting  to spread it to get it into a better pancake shape, but don't (I made this mistake a couple of times before I figured it out). Far better to try to control shape and thickness while pouring, again so you don't destroy the rise.

Cook until the edges are beginning to firm and the bubbles in the center of the pancake pop and the batter doesn't refill the hole (awkward to say; great way to judge pancake done-ness). Flip gently and cook for a couple of minutes until golden brown.

They will be a little more dense than normal because of the carrot and raisin, but they should have a good texture and rise. Cut open the first one and make sure it's done in the middle, and adjust your cooking time if needed. Serve with syrup, cashew cream, jam, agave nectar, or whatever strikes your fancy.


P.S. I think you're going to get a book review soon, because I went to McKay's today (locals, you know what I'm talkin' 'bout) and bought a cookbook and a bunch of memoirs and essay collections by food writers, including Ruth Reichl, Calvin Trillin, Judith Jones, and Edna Lewis. Am Super Excited.