Kylie’s Friend’s Non-Salad Couscous Salad with Grilled or Roasted Veggies

My friend Kylie (who, by the way, as a result of recently reading Eating Animals and some other previous musings, is now feeding her family vegetarian – possibly vegan – meals most days!) sent me recipe for a salad invented by her friend and slightly modified by herself, that she said was awesome. She included this photo:

About the same time, the office manager at work decided that I was to bring in “salad” for our Thanksgiving potluck this week, which left me at a bit of a loss because I kind of consider salad “too easy” and prefer to use events like potlucks as opportunities to expose unwitting people to great vegan cooking. Then Kylie sent me this recipe and it looked absolutely perfect to take to the potluck, so I did. (I’m the type of person who is always making never-tried recipes for dinner parties and potlucks. I live life on the edge. Though at least time I had Kylie’s word it was good.)

For our potluck, I doubled the quantities Kylie sent me, so the photos may depict what looks like an enormous amount of food. The amounts in the recipe I present here are scaled to what Kylie said fed her for 5 lunches.

Couscous Salad with Grilled or Roasted Veggies

1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 small eggplant
1 small red pepper (Kylie in her Australianness so charmingly calls it a capsicum)
250 grams (9 oz) couscous or 1 cup raw freekeh
water or vegetable stock to cook the couscous or freekeh (use amount called for by package)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 handful sun-dried tomatoes
1 small to medium onion (I cut back on this quite a bit so as not to overwhelm the palates of my fellow potluckers because I managed to skip the paragraph where Kylie said to cook it)
2 scallions, chopped
1 red Thai chili (Kylie called this a bird’s eye chili…I actually used a larger, milder Hungarian wax chili because I didn’t want too much heat in case some people in my office are wimps)
1 can chickpeas
2-3 oz baby spinach
3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup chopped cilantro (coriander to you non-Americans)

For the optional dressing:
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup olive oil
ground cumin to taste

Prepare the couscous (I used tri-coloured because it’s festive) or grain of your liking. I suggest using stock instead of water.

Cut the eggplant lengthwise into slices about the size of the width of your thumb, rub with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper, then grill it. I used my George Foreman. You can also do it stove-top or roast it in the oven.

Kylie said she sometimes grills her pepper (capsicum) and sometimes sautes it with the other veggies. I roasted mine like this:

Then I put them in a paper bag for about 10 minutes …

… and then removed them …

… at which time their skins peeled right off.

Toast the pine nuts in small, heavy skillet (or in a toaster oven):

Chop the peppers, eggplant, chili, onion, scallions and herbs. Press or crush the garlic. Measure the cumin seeds. Drain and rinse the chickpeas.

Here’s where Kylie’s email had a paragraph I managed to not read: “Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add about 1 tsp cumin seeds. Add onion, garlic and chilli. Cook til onion is soft. This time I put the capsicum strips in here instead of grilling it, and cooked til soft. Take off the heat and set aside.” I suggest following this step to take the bite out of the raw onion and garlic, although mine turned out okay even though I skipped it.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients if you’d like to use it. I thought it gave it a great tangy flavour.

Mix everything together.

This was easily doubled to feed a crowd, or will keep all week for lunches, or would make a nice one-dish dinner. Despite my inability to follow directions (can you tell I rarely use recipes?) it turned out great. I thought I made too much, but every little bit was gone at the end of our potluck and several people told me it was their favourite dish! I’m grateful Kylie thought to pass this recipe along to me when she did because it really fit the bill.

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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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