Archive forAugust, 2009

Guest Post! Kylie’s Chicken with Thai Basil and Chilli (with vegan options)

Note from Renae: All the way from New South Wales, Australia, Smucky’s sister has written a guest post! This is a vegan blog and her recipe contains chicken, but as she points out, it is very easy to substitute vegan “chicken” strips. I made this recipe for dinner tonight and at the end of the post, I’ve posted my photos. It was delicious!

I should point out for the vegans that Quorn, which Kylie suggests, contains egg whites (though it is readily available here in the US). However, I totally back her suggestion that you go to England because it is great there! (And very vegan-friendly.) LightLife Chick’n Smart Strips are vegan and available in most grocery stores in my area, and Trader Joe’s Chicken-less Strips are also vegan (and are what I used). You could also make your own chicken-style seitan, or even just use tofu. So don’t be alarmed that Kylie used chicken. This is exactly the type of recipe I’d see somewhere and be excited about; I don’t even read “chicken”, I just read “chicken substitute”. And Kylie’s just the type of person I’m glad this blog attracts: people who may not necessarily be vegan themselves but who are open to eating vegan meals. So with no further ado, here’s Kylie:

Hello! My name is Kylie. I know it seems like we don’t know each other, but in fact we do. Well, sort of. You know my brother – sometimes called Mark, sometimes called Smucky, but more often than not, called ****head.

(I am the one in the glasses).

Chicken with thai basil and chilli

Technically this is not a vegetarian meal, let alone a vegan meal. I mean, it has meat in it. And also some meat products. But don’t be put off by that. I would recommend quorn strips in place of the chicken, but if you’d have to go to England to get it (like I would), it’s probably asking a bit much. Unless you are very ambitious, in which case, go for it! It’s great there! You’ll love it!

You will need:

2 tb peanut oil
600g chicken breast fillet, stir-fry-strip-style * Renae’s note: this would be about 2 or 3 packages of most brands of vegan “chicken” strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1cm/5g fresh ginger, minced/grated
4 small red chillies, thinly sliced
4 or 5 lime leaves, ‘shredded’ (I just cut it with scissors)
1 medium brown onion, sliced thinly
About 4 mushrooms, quartered
1 carrot, sliced thinly

This is the sauce according to the original recipe. I do 1.5 times the sauce though:
1/4 cup (60ml – so I would do 90ml) oyster sauce (or vegan oyster sauce, which almost definitely exists, but I haven’t checked) * Renae’s note: it does exist and should be available in just about any Asian grocery store
1 tb soy sauce
1 tb fish sauce (or vegan fish sauce) * Renae’s note: or just double the soy sauce
1/3 cup (80ml) chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

About a cup thai basil
A cup bean sprouts (optional: I don’t usually get it because you can only buy huge amounts of bean sprouts here, and I kept ending up throwing 3/4 out. So I just don’t get it anymore).

The first thing you want to do is chop the shit out of everything.
In one bowl, put: the minced garlic, grated ginger, sliced chillies, shredded lime leaves and sliced onion.

In another bowl: the quartered mushrooms and thinly sliced carrot.

In a third bowl: the sauces (oyster, soy, fish, stock). The sauce issue is contentious. On the one hand, some people like it to coat the food, and no more. I think it would taste more caramel-ly if you took this approach and used the recommended quantities. I, however, do not like to eat boiled rice by itself, so I make enough sauce that it will also flavour all the rice, and if there is too much, you can always boil it off at the end. So I up the quantities by half.

You’ve pretty much done all the work now! Well done! Time to chillax a bit! Have yourself a beer. But not this one..

..unless you are not a vegetarian.

Right! Back to work!

Ok, I have actually omitted a step here. If you eat chicken, at this point you heat half the peanut oil in a pan and cook the chicken in batches until cooked through. Set it aside. If you are using some chicken substitute, I imagine you don’t need to ‘cook’ the chicken as such, just heat it, so you can leave that til later.

Moving along. Heat the remaining peanut oil in the pan (about a medium heat) . Throw in the garlic, ginger, chilli, lime leaves and onion. Cook until onion is soft and mixture is ‘fragrant’.

Ooh that looks nice, doesn’t it. You can’t beat frying onion.

At this point, add the mushrooms and carrots, and stir fry til carrot is as soft as you like it. Actually, til it is almost as soft as you like it. It is good if it still has a little crunch to it.

Throw the chicken back in with the sauces. If I was using a substitute, I would probably put it in first, stir it through til it was warm, then put in the sauces. Turn the heat up a bit and cook til the sauce thickens to the consistency you like. Now for me, I have a fair bit of sauce at this point, and it generally takes the same amount of time to cook (actually, to boil) the sauce off, as it takes to cook the rice. If you have less sauce, you should start the rice before now. Sorry.

Also, I don’t really think there’s a perfect consistency. You just want to cook it enough that it tastes NOTHING LIKE FISH SAUCE.

While that’s cooking off, cook some rice perfectly:

When the sauce is at the consistency you like, take it off the heat and stir through the thai basil, and bean sprouts if you’re using them.

And that’s it! Very easy, but restaurant-quality. It looks nice to serve it like this:

..but this is how I have it:

In other news, I made Renae’s lentil loaf today. It smelled awesome, and this is how it looked before it went in the oven. Mmmmm. It smells better than it looks.

It’s me, Renae, again. Here’s the line-up of the ingredients I used:

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I hate mushrooms, so I left those out. I did use the bean sprouts, though, but forgot to remove them from the refrigerator to have their picture taken.

I won’t give you a commentary of the steps because Kylie already did, but here are some intermediary pics:

There is definitely no need to go running around looking for vegan fish sauce for this dish. I had some on hand so I used it, but it can be hard to find (vegan oyster sauce, however, is not). You hardly use any and as Kylie says, you don’t want the dish to taste like fish sauce anyway. Just use extra soy sauce.

I’d never bought vegan oyster sauce before today, mostly because many times it’s mushroom flavoured. I was going to be brave and get it anyway today but managed to find a non-mushroomy vegan oyster sauce! If you can’t find vegan oyster sauce for some reason, try a smaller amount of dark soy sauce: it was sort of thick and slightly sweet like dark soy sauce (it’s not as sweet though, so dilute it with extra stock). Or try vegetarian “stir-fry sauce”, which is usually about the same consistency.

Kylie suggests using my idea of a bit of aniseed and European basil if you can’t find Thai basil, or just the basil if it’s strong-flavoured. I can almost always find Thai basil in my Asian grocery stores.

Here it is plated …

… and mixed up:

The beer Kylie was drinking, Tooheys, is vegan, so if you can get your hands on it, drink up! No stags were harmed in the making of their beer, nor was isinglass used to refine it. In fact, I believe I drank a few Tooheys at Kylie’s house when I was there earlier this year! I’m not sure it’s available outside Australia, so here’s what I had tonight instead:

Verdict? Well, Mark’s been requesting French onion soup for the last day and a half, but he got this instead. I was slightly worried he’d deduct points from it for not being French onion soup, but when I asked him what he thought he responded, “It was chicken-tastic! I really enjoyed it: it was very tasty; full of flavour and magic!” I agree on all counts: it was extremely flavourful and tasted like a restaurant dish. It was also quick and easy: I think this is another case where the vegan dish is probably easier than the non-vegan dish because the “chicken” doesn’t need to be cooked; just heated through. I’ll definitely be making this again, most likely on a weeknight when I don’t want to spend much time on dinner but want a big return on taste. Thanks, Kylie!

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Hot and Sour Shirataki Noodles

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while: I haven’t cooked much. Mark was in LA for nearly a week and Fortinbras came down to hang out with me, but we went out for Indian food and then I lived off those leftovers for a while. I’ve also been swimming every night after work and by the time I’m done, I’m so hungry I just eat whatever’s available. Last night, however, in order to atone for serving the very health-conscious Mark onion rings the night before, I made shirataki noodles, famed for having few (tofu shirataki) to no (traditional shirataki) calories. Whole Foods and Wegmans sell tofu shirataki noodles; you can also get “real” shirataki in Asian grocery stores. One package is generally considered one serving, but honestly they aren’t very filling so I used three packages for two servings.

Hot and Sour Shirataki Noodles

3 leaves cabbage, julienned
1/2 orange, yellow, or red bell pepper, chopped
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1/4 carrot, grated
1/2 cup snow peas
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 zucchini, cut into ribbons on spiral cutter
3 packages shirataki noodles
1 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp hot sesame oil
1-2 tsp chili garlic sauce
1″ piece ginger, minced or grated

Prepare all the veggies. I totally didn’t intend for them to all be orange and green. I generally like more colourful meals.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

Open the shirataki packages and pour contents into a colander to drain, then rinse with water. The package I had said this helps eliminate the “natural aroma”, and they did in fact smell a little funky.

Place the shirataki in a bowl and microwave for one minute; again this supposedly helps with the smell (which, by the way, isn’t that noticeable unless you put your nose pretty close to the noodles). I also nuked the broccoli for about 45 seconds to pre-cook it.

Heat a wok over medium high heat and then add a bit of peanut or other oil. When hot, add the cabbage.

Stir for about 30 seconds, then add the bell pepper …

… then 30 seconds later, the broccoli and 30 seconds after that the snow peas, stir-frying continuously.

Next add the carrots …

… then the tomatoes.

Add the noodles and zucchini ribbons and stir well.

Pour in the sauce then push the noodles aside.

Whisk together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and stir well to thicken.

Add the scallions and stir everything well, allowing the sauce to thicken and coat the noodles.

Serve immediately.

The verdict on this was I didn’t allow the sauce to thicken up enough and it never coated the noodles very well, resulting in rather bland noodles, which is too bad because the sauce was quite flavourful. Also, Mark was hungry about 15 minutes after eating and had to have a cookie for dessert to help fill up. Therefore I’m not sure if calorie-free noodles are really any better than regular noodles: if they don’t fill you up and you end up snacking on other stuff, what’s the point? However, it’s a quick and easy meal and Mark’s always excited when I use shirataki because he thinks it’s very healthy. They filled me up well enough, or maybe the wine helped with that. Next time I’m going to try harder to get flavour into them, though.

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Spicy Peanut Eggplant

Apart from boxed macaroni & cheese and other “foods” of that nature, before I went vegan I knew how to cook exactly one dish: eggplant parmesan. I don’t even remember what inspired me to learn how to cook that, but it was my big speciality. Of course, it went by the wayside when I went vegan, and for some reason I never showed any further interest in eggplant. I think I over-eggplanted on the eggplant parmesan. It’s ridiculous to continue to avoid eggplant as it’s been 11 years now, although I don’t actually avoid eggplant, it just never occurs to me to buy it. That is, until I saw the adorable “purple pixie” eggplants at Wegmans last night. I should have taken a picture. They’re tiny and so cute!

I don’t know why, but I had decided I wanted to make something with the eggplants involving peanut sauce. Maybe because that’s the furthest thing I could think of from parmesan? At any rate, I got home quite late tonight and had a hunch that Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian would contain what I was looking for. I was not disappointed. It had exactly what I was looking for and what’s more, it was nearly instant: Cold Eggplants in a Spicy Peanut Sauce.

Spicy Peanut Eggplant
(lightly) adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

10 oz small or baby eggplants, quartered or halved then cut into 2″ pieces
4 tsp natural peanut butter
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp vinegar
2 tsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice) wine (or try sake)
4 drops stevia (or 2 tsp sugar or agave nectar)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp chili garlic paste
thumb-size piece garlic, grated
1 cube frozen cilantro (or a handful fresh, chopped)

Steam the eggplant pieces until tender. Jaffrey suggests 10-15 minutes, however, I checked after 9 minutes and mine were very over-done, so for particularly delicate eggplants, check after 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. Toss with the eggplant and serve cold or at room temperature.

I realized I was going to have much more sauce than I needed, so I cooked a bundle of soba noodles to toss the leftover sauce with:

In cat news, Brachtune likes to sleep in my reading chair:

You are probably wondering why I never take any photos of Brachtune that don’t involve her lounging around in that chair. Well, the fact of the matter is, Brachtune spends a good 95% of her time there.

I spend a lot of my time there as well, such as right now. Since we are competing for the spot, Brachtune is currently standing on me and kneading at my stomach, which is cute but also annoying because she’s always messing with my belly button ring. This is what Brachtune looks like when she wakes up and realizes I intend to claim my chair:

And this is what she does to make herself as super-adorable as possible in hopes that I will change my mind:

It never works. I just scoop her up and put her on my lap and then she sits there purring and drooling all over me. And sitting on my arm when I’m trying to type…

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Maryland “Crab” Soup Redux

I had a hard time figuring out what to make for lunch today. I was out lazing on a float in the pool, reading, the contents of the kitchen running through my mind. We’re out of bread, so no sandwiches, and although I have plenty of noodles, we’ve had them twice already this week. I didn’t want to go to the grocery store because I want to devote as much time as possible to the pool. (I know, my life is very hard.) So of course I thought about soup, and in the course of deciding what type of soup, decided I wanted “crab” soup. I’ve posted a recipe for Maryland “Crab” Soup before, but I didn’t bother looking at that post (though I did use young jackfruit as the “crab” again – something about the way it looks when you pull it apart really reminds me of crab). I really just wanted something fast so I could get back to swimming before we head out to a party tonight. So this version is easier than the other. I didn’t photograph the steps because I wasn’t planning to post it, but it ended up so well I figured I would.

Maryland “Crab” Soup Redux

1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 cups vegan “chicken” broth
1/3 cup French lentils
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can young green jackfruit (packed in water), shredded (just pull it apart with your hands)
a few pieces dulse, snipped into tiny pieces with kitchen shears
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp kelp powder
1-2 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels (or use fresh)

In soup pot, saute the onions, carrots, and garlic in a small amount of oil until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients except the corn, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for half an hour. Add the corn and cook an additional 5 minutes.

Hm, I guess there wasn’t much to that, so I didn’t need photos anyway! The only thing I felt this was missing was green beans, and that probably only because I looked at the photos of the old recipe and thought they looked really good. So I’d have liked to have added some french-cut green beans, or at least something green, like fresh parsley. But alas, I had limited resources. And nonetheless, it turned out very well. In fact, it was excellent and even better than the old, more involved version.

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Drunken Noodles

Tonight when I asked Mark what he wanted for dinner and, gesturing toward the kitchen island covered in produce fresh from the farmer’s market, suggested basil should play a large role considering I had a bunch of it. I was surprised he promptly answered, “drunken noodles”. Surprised because not only is his standard answer “I don’t care,” but because I didn’t know Mark even realized drunken noodles contain basil. Sure, typically it would be Thai basil and I had Genovese, but I have ways around that. Drunken noodles are not a new dish to my repertoire, but I did make them completely differently than I usually do because I didn’t have the wide noodles I usually use, I didn’t have Thai basil, I didn’t have shallots, I didn’t have bean sprouts, and I did have vegetarian fish sauce. Oh, and I don’t usually sneak zucchini into it. It ended up okay, but I prefer my usual version so sooner or later I’ll have to put that one up. In the meantime, here’s what I did tonight, and it was hot enough to work its magic against hangovers (not that I had one) even if it wasn’t as great as usual.

Drunken Noodles

1/4 package wide rice noodles (I used long, thin-ish, Pad Thai-ish noodles, but I usually use short, wide noodles that are nearly square)
1/2 onion, sliced
1/4 tsp anise seed -> Thai basil has a somewhat anise flavor compared to European basil, so I use anise seed for flavor when I don’t have Thai basil. Add it only if you don’t have Thai basil, and use it sparingly.
1 zucchini, sliced into ribbons/noodles on spiral slicer (optional)
1 yellow (or other color) bell pepper, chopped
1/3 pint orange cherry tomatoes, halved
2-4 small Thai peppers (I used cayenne because that’s what I had on hand), sliced
1 cup basil, Thai if you can get it
3 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp thin (light) soy sauce
2 Tbsp vegan fish sauce (or extra soy sauce)
2 Tbsp sambel olek (or to taste)
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
zest of 1 lime
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
2 drops stevia or 1 tsp sugar

The reason I decided to make zucchini “noodles” is really just that I have a lot of zucchini. I buy it by the ton at the farmer’s market so I can relate to the “way too much zucchini” problem that people who are actually capable of growing things have. Also, I’ve recently converted Mark into a zucchini fan. (Score!) If you don’t have a spiral slicer or you don’t have an abundance of zucchini or you aren’t married to Mark or you just think it’s weird to put zucchini in drunken noodles, well, just omit it. It is weird.

Cook or soak the noodles according to package instructions, then drain.

Chop the bell pepper and tomatoes; slice the onions and hot peppers. Grate/zest the ginger and lime.

In a small bowl, whisk together the “fish” sauce, soy sauces, ginger, lime, sambel olek, stevia or sugar, and sesame oil.

Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add some oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, and if using, the anise seed.

After a minute or two, add the bell pepper and stir fry for another minute or two.

Add the tomatoes and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the rice noodles …

… and, if using, the zucchini “noodles”.

Then stir in the sauce.

Finally stir in the basil and make sure everything is warmed through.

Drunken noodles are very fast to prepare! I’ve never actually tried them as a hangover cure, but they are tasty even when you are feeling fine!

(They’re even tastier when I’m using my normal recipe, however.)

In other, semi-related news, as someone who makes her own tempeh and tofu, I found this slideshow and article in The Atlantic pretty interesting. I’m slightly disturbed by the fact they used to use their feet to make tempeh – all the more so because the reason is feet are “very dirty” – but that’s apparently illegal now anyway.

In completely non-related news, but I bring it up because I mentioned the book in my last post, yesterday this article popped up in my feed reader and I found it completely bizarre. For one thing, it’s an opera about physics. For another thing, I’m currently reading the book its based upon. And it’s not like the book is new (it was published in 2005); I’ve had it on my shelf for a few years and just randomly started reading it last week. So the timing is weird. Not quite as weird – and a much happier coincidence – as the time David Foster Wallace committed suicide while I was reading Infinite Jest. The opera is moving to Barcelona after Paris, and I’d love to go see it there because I also just finished reading two books that take place in Barcelona, but considering I’ve already been to Australia this year, I think I’m going to have to catch it at the Guggenheim in NYC in January. (By the way, if you are at all interested in string theory, quantum mechanics, particle physics, extra dimensions, and all that fun stuff, in addition to Warped Passages, I highly recommend The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene – who happens to be vegan!) (Hey, look, I managed to make this paragraph somewhat relevant to a vegan blog!)

In cat news, is Brachtune not the utmost adorable thing in the world when she’s sleeping??? She lies with her face flat on the chair:

She’s such a cutie!

She always wakes up when I’m taking her picture though.

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Lentil Loaf

I had originally planned to make dolsot bibimbap tonight, but around 7 when I started thinking about dinner, I suddenly decided I was going to make a lentil loaf instead. Which was sort of a weird thing to think considering I’ve never made lentil loaf before. I’ve made a few different vegan “meat” loaves, but I don’t think any of them were predominately lentils. Which might explain why none of them stand out in my mind; if I’d used lentils I’d probably have liked them more. (If you haven’t noticed, I love lentils.) The loaf that transpired was not perfect – after an hour of baking and some time resting it was still slightly too moist – however, it tasted perfect. I’ll definitely make it again, maybe cutting back on the liquid slightly or baking it in a hotter oven, though the seasonings were spot on so there’s no need to mess with them. It went over very well with Mark as well.

Lentil Loaf

1 1/2 cups brown/green lentils
1/2 cup bulgur
4 cups vegan “beef” broth
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 whole wheat hot dog bun or 2-3 slices whole wheat bread
2-3 Tbsp brown sauce (like HP, or try Worcestershire sauce if you can’t find HP sauce)
2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
salt to taste
1/4 cup ketchup

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the lentils, bulgur, and broth in a pot and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for half an hour or until liquid is absorbed and lentils and bulgur are cooked.

Meanwhile, saute the onions and carrots in a skillet.

When the onions are translucent, add the garlic and continue to saute another 3 minutes or so.

Place the hot dog bun (I told you the other day I had some left over!) in a food processor …

… and process until crumbs.

Place everything but the ketchup into the pot with the lentils and bulgur …

… and stir well to combine. It should become mushy.

Place in a greased loaf pan – you may need to use two. I made more than I had really intended to and my glass loaf pan wasn’t big enough. I also put too much in it: it expands a bit in the oven and even before that happened, I could barely get the lid on. Leave a little room at the top; don’t do as depicted in this picture!

My mom’ s meatloaf had a ketchup topping, so it seems essential to me. Squirt some ketchup on top …

… then smear it around to cover the loaf evenly.

Here’s the small dish I put the excess into. I should have evenly divided it into two of the larger pans (and I even have two).

Cover the pan, either with a lid or aluminum foil, and bake for an hour. Here you can see what happens when you overfill your pan. This was actually taken after only about 10 minutes, when I realized I’d better put a cookie sheet under it to catch the mess. Boy is this going to be fun to clean. (It’s soaking now.)

Remove the lid or foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes. When I removed the lid from the big pan, I took the top layer of the loaf off with it because the ketchup had cooked onto the lid. That was disheartening, however, after returning it to the oven with a fresh layer of ketchup, I tasted what was stuck on the lid and it was awesome. Mark appeared on the scene just then and as he’s notorious for grabbing bites of whatever I’m working on, regardless of its stage of completion, he immediately scraped a bite of the lid as well. Then he said it was awesome. Between the two of us, we ate everything that was stuck to the lid while waiting for the loaves to finish baking.

Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

I wanted to serve it with gravy. Ordinarily I make gravy by making a roux and slowly whisking in “beef” broth and maybe some seasonings. However since I used “beef” broth in the loaf I scouted out some alternate recipes and found this one on All Recipes that is really good. I used Earth Balance for the butter, obviously, and I used a little less than it calls for, which you can get away with because you’re not making a roux: it’s thickened by the cornstarch, so the butter is mostly for flavor…and I don’t need that much butter flavor! I also added a little Kitchen Bouquet just to darken the colour. Kitchen Bouquet adds some flavor – a good one – but the gravy didn’t need it: it was good on its own. In fact, I like the gravy so much, and it was so easy, I’ll probably just use that recipe from now on.

As it turns out, however, the gravy was totally unnecessary because the loaf was very moist. A little too moist, in fact. It simply never dried out in the heat of the oven. So next time I either need to bake it longer or bake it hotter, or add more bread crumbs or do something a little different. Despite this it tasted great and the mushiness wasn’t that big a deal.

Here is the meal plated (on a new-to-me Fire King plate):

Mark, who is afraid of undercooked things, was a little afraid of it when serving himself, even though he already knew it was going to taste great. However, after eating his first serving, he disappeared into the the kitchen and returned with a sandwich containing a second serving. So even mushy this was a winner!

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Tomato Dal, and quick papad snack

After nearly 8 years of living together, I am still excited to see Mark when I get home from work and I miss him when he’s not here for dinner. Nonetheless, on the infrequent occasions that we don’t eat together (or at least eat the same meal), I am happy to be able to make Indian food, of which he’s not that fond. Upon hearing he’d be out with a friend tonight, I leapt at the chance to put some of the Indian supplies I bought recently to use, but I was starving when I got home. I could barely think straight, so instead of improvising or coming up with something on my own, I once again turned to Mahanandi and made a soup straight from Indira’s site: Tomato Dal.

Adding to my excitement was the fact that I stopped by Super H on my way home from work and happened to pick up some fresh curry leaves, not knowing when I’d be able to use them. (In fact, because Super H is usually the only place I can buy them and because they sell them in quantities much larger than I can ever use at one time and because I’m often annoyed that I don’t have any curry leaves, I’m thinking about trying to dry them.) I was able to use a few of them tonight!

This is another recipe that is going to tempt those of you who have been telling me you’re thinking of overcoming your worries about pressure cookers…

Tomato Dal
From Indira at Mahanandi

1/2 cup toor dal (yellow pigeon peas)
1 1/2 cups water
1 large tomato, chunked
1 onion, chunked
1 cayenne pepper (Indira calls for 6-8 green chilis; I used what I had on hand)
1/4 tsp turmeric
marble-sized piece of tamarind
1 tsp salt
a few curry leaves (optional; I know they can be hard to find and when I can’t, I just skip them)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds

Measure the toor dal and chunk the tomato and onion.

Place the above as well as the water, chili, turmeric, and tamarind in the pressure cooker.

Cover and heat over high until it comes up to pressure, then reduce heat to low or medium low and cook until the dal is falling apart. Now, Indira says this will take 10 to 15 minutes, but I think she must have soaked her dal first (I’ve seen her advise elsewhere doing so for about an hour) because mine was still hard after 14 or 15 minutes. One of the few drawbacks of using a pressure cooker is you have no idea how done something is without releasing the pressure (which takes time, though using the “quick” release method, not much), and if it’s not done, you have to go through the process of bringing it back up to pressure to continue cooking. The good news is it’s hard to overcook dal, so I upon finding it not done, I just brought it up to pressure and cooked for another 15 minutes. When the dal is so soft it’s falling apart, add the salt and mash the dal up with the back of a large wooden spoon or a wide spatula.

Bring a bit of oil up to temperature in a small skillet or pan and then add the curry leaves, cumin, and mustard seeds, frying until the mustard seeds pop. (You can do this step while the dal is cooking; it can cool in the pan before using.) When the dal is ready, stir contents of the skillet or pan into the dal.

Serve with rice. (You can’t see it but there’s a serving of rice under the dal; it got mixed together before being eaten.)

As I mentioned, I was famished when I got home, and although I thought the dal would take me 15, not 30, minutes, that still wasn’t fast enough for me to get food into my system. So as soon as the dal was in the pressure cooker, I made myself a snack of papads. Papads are very thin, crispy wafers made from lentil (or other) flour and spices. They are often served as appetizers in Indian restaurants. I like them as a snack because they are quick, tasty, and healthier than chips (my favorite kind says there are 136 calories and 0.66 grams of fat per 100 grams, which, as they’re about 11 grams each, is about 50 to 70 grams more than I usually eat at a time). This is my favorite brand, although the reason it’s my favorite has nothing to do with the taste and everything to do with the label because I find it hilarious:

Here is an uncooked papad. My favorite flavor is asafoetida, although if you aren’t familiar with the smell of asafoetida, I have to warn you you might not like it. They are also spicy from black pepper. You can get plain and other flavors as well.

Another great thing about papads is you can microwave them! It’s best to microwave them individually; they don’t like being crowded. It takes about 45 seconds per papad. This one is nearly, but not quite, done.

You can also cook them over an open flame. I did this from time to time when I had a gas stove, using tongs, turning it constantly. You should also be able to cook them on an electric stove by cooking them in a dry skillet (flip them a couple of times). However, the microwave is really the easiest and fastest.

Here are my cooked padads, ready for snacking:

I served them (to myself) with mango chutney and lime pickle.

In completely unrelated news, here’s Renae’s Random Fact of the Day: Quarks – the particles that are components of hadrons such as protons and neutrons – were named after this passage in Finnegan’s Wake:

Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark. And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

I’m a big fan of Ulysses, and in fact one of my primary domain names comes from a word that’s repeated in it, but I’ve never even attempted Finnegan’s Wake. I’m reading Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages right now – I periodically punctuate my relentless reading of novels with books on string theory – and about this fun quark fact, Randall says, “This, so far as I can deduce, is pretty much unrelated to the physics of quarks except for two things: there were three of them, and they were difficult to understand.” Lisa Randall is funny! Also, I may start calling Mark Muster Mark. Maybe he’ll like that better than Smark.

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Way-Too-Fast Vegetable Risotto

I didn’t learn to cook, or even really appreciate food, until I became vegan. Things were a little different back then and it seemed a bit harder than it does now, but I did live mere blocks away from a great heath food store that stocked all the weird things I suddenly needed, like nutritional yeast. (Golden Temple sadly closed its doors a couple of years after I went vegan and I was crushed.) I don’t come from a family of adventurous eaters, so it wasn’t until I began cooking that I ate a lot of things for the first time, including some things that are often vegetarian or vegan in nature. Believe me, going vegan made me a MUCH more prolific eater: for every single thing I stopped eating, I started eating ten new things. Which is why I have to laugh at the “what DO you eat?” question.

It may seem astonishing, but risotto is one of the things I don’t think I ever had until I learned how to cook it myself. And I remember making it the first time: standing in my basement kitchen, reading a printout from the internet – this was before laptops were (in my book) affordable so I actually used this “printer” device – stirring constantly, adding veggie stock in small doses. It took about 45 minutes of constant stirring. The result was delicious, but I lived alone and much as I liked my new hobby of cooking, it seemed a little labour-intensive just to feed myself. So although I thought risotto tasted great, it didn’t go into heavy rotation at Chez Renae.

Years later, I got a pressure cooker and, to learn how to use it, Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. There are a lot of great things I discovered about pressure cookers, many of them through that book, but one of the most important is that using a pressure cooker to make risotto is brilliant! I’m not kidding when I say that the risotto I made tonight was done in far too little time. I normally expect dinner to take me 20 to 30 minutes to prepare; actually, up to an hour. I’m really perfectly happy spending an hour making dinner, even on weeknights. But I’m often doing several other things at the same time: cleaning up, medicating the cat, doing other chores, while things are cooking. Risotto in a pressure cooker takes 5 minutes (with no stirring!) It throws my schedule out of whack! Tonight I needed to throw together a simple tossed salad and wash some dishes while dinner cooked and I barely had time to do either. If I hadn’t already had salad dressing made up, the risotto would have been waiting for me before I was even near ready for it.

This recipe is almost exactly Lorna Sass’s Risotto with Saffron and Seasonal Vegetables. I was going to pull it together without even looking at a recipe, because I wanted to use some of my farmer’s market bounty, but I needed to double check the ratio of rice to liquid, so I consulted the book and discovered what I planned to do was nearly exactly the same as the recipe in the book. Which is no surprise: I’ve made it several times before, and it’s good so I see no need to try to improve upon it. (Sass calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked vegetables, any type. I’ve specified what I used, but know that anything will work.)

Too-Fast Vegetable Risotto

1/2 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups risotto-style rice
4 cups vegan stock or broth
large pinch saffron
1 small crown broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 large zucchini, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup orange cherry tomatoes, halved
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon

Prep all the veggies. Don’t wait until the risotto is cooking to do this – it goes too fast. Chop them before you begin.

Put some olive oil into the pressure cooker over medium high heat and add the onions, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the rice.

Add the saffron and stock, then put the lid on and bring up to pressure.

Once it’s reached pressure, drop the heat to low or medium low and cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the veggies. I nuked the broccoli for 45 seconds, sauted the zucchini and bell pepper for 2 or 3 minutes, and stirred the tomatoes in after removing the skillet from the heat. You can really cook them however you desire.

Release the pressure in the pressure cooker via the “quick” method (i.e., run the cooker under cold water) and remove the lid.

Return the cooker to medium low heat. If it is still brothy, simmer for a few minutes until thickened (I have never needed to do this). When it’s the desired consistency, stir in the veggies and let them warm through, then stir in the lemon juice.

Serve immediately.

Here’s the salad I made; nearly all the ingredients were from the farmer’s market. I first tossed what I thought were two salad servings into a large bowl, then when a hungry Mark came prowling through the kitchen, offered him his salad as a first course before the risotto was ready. He pounced on the idea but took the entire salad! So I had to make a second one for myself. But I don’t complain about people wanting to eat salad.

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Hot Dog Casserole

I don’t have a shot of the ingredients for this one because even as I had begun to prepare it I still wasn’t sure what direction I was going in with it. All I knew was I had three leftover hot dogs and I wanted to use them up in a non-bun manner. (I don’t know why that was because I now have six un-used hot dog buns I need to find a use for.) This was another throw-whatever’s-in-the-fridge together meal, this time in delicious casserole form!

Hot Dog Casserole

8 oz whole wheat elbows
1 recipe Yeast “Cheese” (from New Farm Cookbook/Simply Heavenly!; scroll down a little bit to see recipe(s)); I used extra mustard
3 vegan hot dogs, sliced into coins
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1-2 cayenne peppers, minced (I used 4 and it was overwhelming; I’d use 2 next time)
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes (I used orange, which I keep buying at the farmer’s market because they’re awesome)
1 cup to 1 can baked beans*

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the pasta until al dente, drain, and set aside. Prepare the “cheese” and set aside.

Mince the chili pepper(s) …

… and chop the other veggies and the hot dogs.

Mark entered the picture this point to steal “free” macaroni and tomatoes. I had to shoo him away.

Saute the onions, bell pepper, and chili pepper for about 5 minutes.

Combine all of the ingredients …

… and place in a baking dish.

I topped it with some panko bread crumbs and Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese because it seems like that’s what you do with casseroles.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.


* A note about the baked beans: I threw this in because I had them leftover from the other night and I think the flavour is essential to the casserole, however, they need to be more of the “Boston” variety than the British Heinz variety. I only had a bit left over and wanted to try it with more beans, so I removed a little of the casserole and tried adding a bit of a can of Heinz vegetarian baked beans (from the British aisle of Wegmans, and which I buy because I like beans on toast because sometimes I think I’m actually British and my parents aren’t telling me something…) but they were too runny and too sweet and just not right. So if you are using canned baked beans, use some brand that is sort of thicker, darker, and has molasses in it. I also described how I cheat and make Boston “baked” beans in this post. (In regards to my Britishness, I’ve also begun subconsciously adding extraneous u’s to words like colour and favourite. I guess it’s both because I read a lot of books that are in British English, and also my laptop seems to think I’m British for some reason and tries to tell me “color” and “favorite” are spelled wrong…and they really do look wrong to me now. I am not, however, phobic about zee/zed and realiZe that no matter what the laptop says, I’m American enough to embrace the zee.)

In other news, I noticed a Vegan Lunch Box display in Wegmans the other day, complete with the cookbook and the laptop lunch boxes that Jennifer uses. How cool is that? I’m not sure why, because I like the website, but I never got around to buying the cookbook, so despite the fact I don’t have room for any more cookbooks, I might buy one anyway just to make sure Wegmans knows I’m happy they promote vegan products. (I actually also bought another vegan cookbook at Wegmans a couple of years ago; they’re well-stocked!) You know, Mark and I have been talking about how much longer we really want to stay in Northern Virginia, as there’s a lot not to love about the area (read: traffic), but there are entire vegan displays, not just in Whole Foods or other natural food stores, but my regular, local, every day grocery store. Anything I need is pretty much available to me within a five mile radius. I’m sure that would also be true if we moved to San Francisco or New York, two of our favourite cities, but here we also live in a house and not a one or zero bedroom, 500-square foot apartment with no parking space, which would likely be the case in the good places. Oh, Northern Virginia, how I both hate and love you.

Speaking of lunch boxes, though, here’s mine!

I take my bento box in sometimes, but most of the time, it’s my trusty Tupperware lunch box, and I love it. I didn’t have one when I was a kid – I had aluminum lunch boxes with Strawberry Shortcake or Smurfs or something on them – but my best friend in elementary school did and I was always fascinated by it and its matching interior containers. And the fact that my friend’s contained a hard boiled egg and a tiny little packet of salt every single day. I had a peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese sandwich with a rotation of Hostess snacks every day. Now, I have leftovers from the previous night’s dinner 90% of the time. Anyway, you can find these Tupperware lunch boxes on eBay, and I’ve seen them in thrift stores a couple of times as well. I have Corningware that I transfer contents I want to microwave to at work because I don’t like microwaving plastic. Other than the little extra clean-up I have to do, I find this works very well for me.

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Quick Korean-ish Dinner

Since seeing SusanV’s Korean-Style Cucumber Salad on Fat Free Vegan the other day, I’ve been thinking about it. Although I probably could, like SusanV, eat it as a meal, I accompanied it with a quick hot meal that used up some veggies I need to get rid of.

Korean Cucumber Salad
adapted from Fat Free Vegan

2 cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp Korean red chili flakes (these are pretty mild; if you can’t find them, use much less cayenne), or to taste
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sesame oil

Thinly slice the cucumber, using a mandolin, food processor, or your trusty chef’s knife:

Do the same with the onion.

Juice the lemon half.

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.

Refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Thrown-together Korean-like vegetable meal

My premise with this dish was if I was going for a Korean theme, I could clean out my crisper drawers and just toss the veggies with some gochujang. So that’s what I did. I had much of a very large zucchini, which I sliced on the mandolin (thicker than the cucumber):

I sliced up a couple of carrots:

And two small heads of broccoli, the florets of which I microwaved for a minute because I prefer to partially cooking my broccoli before stir-frying.

In a small bowl, I mixed together 2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste), 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 drop stevia, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, and 1 tablespoon water.

Then I heated up a wok, added some oil and then the carrots, which I stir fried for a minute or two:

Then I added the zucchini slices (which I chopped in half first, as they were very large), and fried for about three minutes:

I added the broccoli and cooked just long enough to heat it …

… and finally added the sauce, stirring to combine and heat.

Served with rice made in a rice cooker, this meal took maybe 15 minutes to prepare. Not the most exciting meal in the world (and probably very inauthentic), though the cucumbers were yummy, but it was filling, healthy, and tasted good. And I’m free of cucumbers and zucchini!! (Until I visit the farmer’s market Wednesday morning…)

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