Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thai Green Mango Salad with Coconut Bacon

A few weeks ago, I went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant with my family, in celebration of my Mom's birthday. Mom started out with a mango salad, something that I'd never tried myself, perhaps due to the mysterious absence of that little V or leaf or whatever symbol the restaurant I happen to be visiting uses to signify that the meal is vegetarian. In this instance I quickly found out why. I leaned over to check out this mango salad and noted a couple curls of bacon on top, along with a strong whiff of fish sauce, an odor I know well due to accidentally ingesting it I don't even know how many times during my early days of eating Thai. The bacon, she informed me, was something she'd never seen used in this particular dish. Being my number one coconut bacon fan, she suggested I blog a version using that as a substitute. Thanks mom!

I figured I had to get on this dish pretty quickly, because I noticed mango prices going up at the supermarket, along with the number of soft, ripe mangoes available going down. I thought mangoes were in season nearly all year. Am I wrong? In any event, I was happy to go out and buy some mangoes right away, and fortunately for me, this dish does not require perfect, ripe mangoes. In fact, it calls for just the opposite. You want to use firm, green, under-ripe mangoes. This way they shred up nicely and retain some crispness.

This salad comes together quick, which is good, because it isn't a make-ahead dish. Throwing everything together right before serving ensures that your mango retains it's nice crispness.

I served this as a meal, alongside some simple pan-fried tofu. Served like this, you will feed two people generously. As an appetizer, skip the tofu and divide it up into four or so servings.

Thai Shredded Mango Salad with Coconut Bacon

Printable Version

Serves 2-4

2 unripe mangoes
1 cup of bean sprouts
1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. chili paste
1 tbsp. soy sauce
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup coconut bacon
a few handfuls of your favorite salad greens

Peel mangoes and then shred them into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add bean sprouts, pepper, lime juice, maple syrup, chili paste, soy sauce, scallions and cilantro. Toss everything together. Divide greens among plates, and then top with mango mixture. Sprinkle with coconut bacon.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Sesame Shiitake Sushi

I suppose I've been on a bit of a sushi kick ever since I realized that rolling isn't as impossible a task as I'd once thought. Seriously, it isn't, and if you're intimidated, as I once was, I highly encourage you to pick up some nori and rice and get to practicing with some simple cucumber rolls. I bet you'll find that your skills are better than anticipated.

Once my sushi frenzy started, I came to another realization: I can fill it with whatever I please. This was a liberating discovery, because as much as I love a basic veggie roll, it does get boring after a while. But I see no reason to limit myself. It's not just me either. Apparently there are restaurants that specialize in stuffing sushi with all kinds of unconventional, non-raw fish, vegan and vegetarian delights, and I've lately been exploring menus online for places that stuff their rolls with everything under the sun. Mexican sushi? Yup, it's out there. Has anyone tried this stuff? I'm incredibly curious.

I haven't reached quite that level of adventurousness in my own kitchen yet, but my creative juices are gaining momentum. I had a satisfying shiitake roll experience while dining out recently and that sparked some inspiration. The shiitakes provide a hearty texture and savory flavor, and though I've never had any fish-filled sushi, I'm imagining that the shiitake rolls do a pretty good job of mimicking the experience. When I took it upon myself to make my own version of shiitake rolls, I decided to dial up the flavor a bit with a heavy hit of sesame oil and soy sauce. The result was savory, melt-in-your mouth and intensely flavor packed. I'm very happy to add this recipe to my collection. More sushi to come!

Sesame Shiitake Sushi

Printable Version

Makes 2 rolls, 8 pieces each

Note: This makes a bit more rice than you need. I like it that way, because it leaves room for error, but if you're a rolling expert, you can cut down on the rice by as much as a third.

For the rice:

2/3 cup sushi rice
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp. water
3/4 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. rice vinegar

For the filling:

1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
4 large shiitake caps, sliced into strips
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. chili paste

2 nori sheets
sesame seeds
soy sauce
pickled ginger

Place rice in a strainer and rinse under cold, running water for 1-2 minutes. Place in a small saucepan with other rice ingredients, stir and heat to a simmer. Cover and allow to continue simmering for about 20 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to sit for another 10 minutes, covered.

Place sesame oil in medium skillet and over medium heat. Add garlic clove and sautee for 1 minute. Add shiitake caps and cook for about five minutes, flip, then cook another five minutes. Caps should be tender and slightly browned at this point. Add water, soy sauce and chili paste. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer for about 2 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Cut about 1/3 of the length off of each nori sheet and discard or save for another recipe. Place one of your sheets on a bamboo mat. Keep a little bowl of water close by. Using wet hands, cover nori with a thin layer of rice. Arrange half of your mushrooms in a single line along the width of nori, about one inch away from you. Take the bamboo mat and end of nori closest to you and tightly roll it over your mushrooms. Tuck the end of the nori in and continue rolling, using the mat to press your roll tight. Once completely rolled, slice into eighth pieces. Repeat using your other nori sheet and remaining rice and mushrooms. Check out this video for a helpful demo of the rolling process.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Vegan Lemon Coconut Donuts

When I was a little kid, my mom had this cake she made every year for Easter. It was made to look like the Easter Bunny's face and covered in coconut, to mimic the Easter Bunny's fluffy white coat. Little pieces of candy decorated this coconut covered bunny face to illustrate bunny eyes, nose and mouth. The coconut covered frosting was always my favorite part though. I guess that's why when I started brainstorming for springtime Easter recipes, coconut was the ingredient that repeatedly came to mind.

Part of me felt like I had to come up with something cutesy and shaped like bunnies or Easter eggs, but alas, I just wasn't being hit with any cutesy Easter critter inspiration. So, I tried for a more practical approach. What would I bring to Easter brunch?

I've had this donut pan sitting at the back of my pantry for quite some time now. This happens a lot. I learn about something I haven't cooked yet, in this case baked donuts, get all excited and buy the necessary ingredients or equipment, and then forget about this new awesome food that I wanted to make until one day it falls from the pantry shelf and hits me in the head. In this instance the timing couldn't have been better. Everything soon came together in the form of lemon coconut donuts.

I found eating baked donuts from my donut pan to be oddly satisfying. Yeah, I recognize that the point is to feel like you're eating something fried and thus way badder than you really are, and I usually don't buy into that kind of thing, but I really think it works here! I should also mention that you can achieve this without a donut pan (even thought the donut pan rocks), by just rolling your dough into donut holes. Donut holes are really satisfying too. You just gotta eat a few more of them ;)

Vegan Lemon Coconut Donuts

Adapted from here

Printable Version

Makes about 8 donuts (or 24 donut holes)

3 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. ground flax seeds
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (could sub all purpose)
1 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup vegan margarine, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup unflavored, unsweetened non-dairy milk
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 cup shredded coconut, divided


juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 to 3/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and spray donut pans or baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together flax seeds and water. Set aside and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest in small bowl. In a separate bowl, cream together margarine and sugar. Add flax mixture then milk, maybe just a bit at a time to avoid splashing, and lemon extract. Add in dry ingredients and blend until a uniform dough is formed. Fold in 1/2 cup coconut.

If you're making the "full" donut form of this recipe, distribute dough among donut forms. I found the best way to do this was by spreading it around with my hands. Otherwise, just roll dough into 24 balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool and remove from pan before glazing.

While baking, whisk glaze ingredients together, using as much powdered sugar as needed to get the right consistency. Drizzle glaze over donuts and top with remaining 1/2 cup of coconut.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Crispy Orange Ginger Tofu with Broccoli

Often I find the best source of vegetarian cooking inspiration stuffed into my kitchen junk drawer. That would be a Chinese take-out-menu, or rather, one of a half dozen Chinese takeout menus that I've acquired in the nearly four years since moving into my current home. See, while living at my last home, in Philadelphia, I fell in love with the phenomenon known as the Chinese vegetarian restaurant. We had a bunch of these in Philly, and at most of them you could walk in, sit down and be handed what looked like a normal Chinese restaurant menu. It wasn't though: everything was vegetarian. So if the menu listed, say, Peking duck, what you'd actually get was some vegetarian version of Peking duck, which could be made from soy, seitan, veggies, beans, or some combination of the foregoing. I was a little freaked out the first time I tried one of these places, repeatedly confirming with the server that "I would not be served, there was absolutely no meat in the place...not to worry, this is not meat that I'm eating, despite what my eyes and taste buds might be telling me..."

Eventually I got used to the idea, and eventually I became a regular at my favorite of the Chinese vegetarian places, to the point where they knew to bring the hot sauce to my table right away and not bother asking if I wanted white or brown rice.

I learned a bit from that experience. If they could veganize an entire Chinese menu, I could certainly handle a dish at a time when I was looking for something new to try in the kitchen. There are lots of ways of going about this, but you can generally get away with subbing tofu or seitan in most beef, pork or chicken based dishes. Crispy tofu is probably my favorite approach.

This particular dish is one that I tried out way back when I first started this blog, but initially I wasn't happy with the sauce. With the beautiful arrays of citrus I've been seeing in the markets lately I decided to give it a go again. This time it was awesome.

Crispy Orange Ginger Tofu with Broccoli

Printable Version

Serves 4

1 lb. extra firm tofu
1 cup orange juice
1/4-1/3 cup cornstarch, divided
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. orange zest
vegetable oil
2 broccoli crowns, chopped
2 scallions
sesame seeds
red pepper flakes (optional)

Press tofu for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl or cup, dissolve 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch in a few tablespoons of your orange juice. Set aside. Place remaining orange juice in a small saucepan, along with brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and orange zest. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 15 minutes. Stir in cornstarch mixture until completely blended. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut tofu into cubes and roll in remaining cornstarch to coat. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with vegetable oil and place over medium-high heat. Add tofu cubes and cook a few minutes on each side, until browned and crispy. Transfer to paper towel to drain.

Steam or boil broccoli florets to desired tenderness. Return tofu to skillet, along with broccoli and sauce. Toss everything to coat. Serve over rice, topped with scallions, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Garlic and Dill Cauliflower Steaks

Okay, I don't know how you guys are going to react to this post, but I'll say this: had I seen this post on another blog say, just a month or so ago, I'd probably had given it a quick glance and clicked away to something else. Yes, I've been quite the cauliflower skeptic. Cauliflower was on my list of foods to get to know for a while, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'd see blog posts being pinned away, commenters going on about drooling over the stuff, all kinds of unhealthier ingredients being substituted by incognito cauliflower, and despite logic telling me that there must be something to it, every time I passed the cauliflower in the produce aisle all I could think of was the soggy, drippy, boiled and flavorless little flowers that lived in broccoli's shadow.

This recipe changes everything.

I don't know what possessed me to grab for a big old crown of cauliflower while food shopping last week, but it happened. Even after that it took me a few days to get around to cooking it. I just didn't have the itch like I might get if I were to buy a few ripe mangoes or a pretty, purple eggplant, or something, anything sexier than cauliflower.

Eventually I decided it was time. I opted to go with the "cauliflower steak" method of preparation, having seen all kinds of variations all over the blogosphere. I figured garlic and dill would be a good flavoring, having the ability to de-blandify most foods. I got everything together, and one day last week begrudgingly stepped up to the stove.

The result...oh my god. You guys need to make cauliflower. I never in a million years expected this. In fact, I tasted a loose little cauliflower bit as soon as I removed my skillet from the oven, saying out loud "Oh my god." I could have easily eaten all four steaks, which would be an entire crown of cauliflower. They were that addictive. I could also see immediately on tasting why these are named "steaks," I mean aside from the fact of being prepared in big slabs. They are quite steak like...hearty and satisfying from roasting, with just the right touch of crisp from pan searing. 

If you're a cauliflower skeptic like I was, please make these for dinner tonight. Join me. I want to convert you from skeptic to addict :)

Garlic and Dill Cauliflower Steaks

Printable Version

Makes 4-6 steaks

1 cauliflower crown, leaves and stems removed
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

Place cauliflower crown on a cutting board, stem side down, flower side up. Next, slice cauliflower into 4-6 steaks, each being about an inch think. Start by taking a big, sharp knife and cutting straight down, through the middle of the crown, so you've got two identical halves. Now make cuts into each of those halve, parallel to the original cuts and offset by about an inch. Repeat if you've got enough room for another slice, otherwise just stick with four slices. I ended up with four steaks and a few random florets, which I cooked along with the steaks for picking at.

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange cauliflower slices in skillet and cook about two minutes on each side, until you've got some dark spots.

Transfer cauliflower to a baking sheet. Brush with remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil, and sprinkle with lemon juice, dill, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 15 minutes - just until tender.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Smokey Sweet Potato Tempeh Scramble

In case I haven't mentioned it before, I'm terrible when it comes to social media. Like really terrible. I owe what little skill I have to this blog. It was just about a year ago that I finally gave in, sat my boyfriend down in front of the laptop and asked him to show me how to post to Facebook. He, despite having a Facebook account, wasn't much more skilled than I. Neither of us is a technological wizard. (When we met in 2011 I told my friends that his cell phone was from 2004. They knew right away that we'd be a great match.)

Anyhow, I'm happy to say that I've come quite a long way this past year. Just this week I joined Twitter. I have no idea what to do with Twitter yet, but I'll figure it out. I've even got a fancy button over in the sidebar, which I added to my page all by myself, really making me feel like a tech superstar. Click on over if you'd like to connect, and I promise I'll eventually figure out what to do and share something good.

Okay, so this breakfast has nothing to do with social media. It's delicious though. I've always thought of myself as a sweet breakfast type, but the more savory breakfast recipes I develop, the more my taste buds seems to sway towards that direction. I blame my confusion on eggs. After years of disliking eggs and I suppose as a result thinking savory breakfasts weren't my thing, I finally realized that when eggs are out of the equation, a hearty breakfast wrap or scramble (or in this case both) is delightful.

I had some version of this particular savory breakfast in mind for quite a while. Originally I thought it would be a tofu scramble though, probably some variation of this recipe, but with sweet potatoes and smoky seasonings. At some point I realized how much I love smoky flavorings along with tempeh, and this recipe resulted. I'm very happy with the resultant combination of flavors and textures.

We ate this scramble wrapped up in tortillas with avocado and hot sauce. If you do go with the wrap, please do include at least one of these toppings, otherwise I think it would be a bit dry. You could also eat it right out of a bowl.

Smokey Sweet Potato Tempeh Scramble

Printable Version

Serves 4

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small or 1/2 large sweet potato, finely diced
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz. package of tempeh, crumbled
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. maple syrup
juice of 1/2 lemon

For Serving (optional):

1 avocado, sliced
2 scallions, chopped
4 tortillas
hot sauce

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add sweet potato and sautee until lightly browned, about five minutes. Add onion and continue to sautee until softened, about five minutes. Add garlic and sautee another minute. Add tempeh and sautee until browned, about five minutes. You may need to break up some bits of tempeh with a spatula. Add pepper, soy sauce, cumin, paprika, maple and lemon juice. Sautee about two more minutes. Serve in tortillas or in bowls. Top with avocado, scallions and hot sauce.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Vegan Cream Cheese and Veggie Sushi

Last summer I posted this recipe for cashew cream cheese. While the stuff was awesome, I never expected the post to be as popular as it was...or still is. The greater part of a year has passed and it still reigns as my top post of all time. I'm guessing more than a few of you shared my hankering for a creamy-goodness slathered everything bagel.

I didn't get around to experimenting with a healthy substitute for the bagel itself, though that task has been stuck on my to-do list ever since the cream cheese recipe was posted. Flatbreads, crackers, tinkering with dehydrators...these are all possibilities I've contemplated. What I did not expect was to find my bagel in the form of sushi. No, seriously, this sushi tastes like an everything bagel. I defy you to try it and contradict me.

My original motivation for this sushi was simple. One evening while picking up takeout at our local sushi place, the hostess suggested the addition of some cream cheese to our regular mixed veggie roll. Tempting, but we already had several rolls stuffed with tempura-fried delights. Cream cheese would tip the balance just to that unhealthy place we started sushi night in the hopes of avoiding, you know, by opting for sushi in place of say, a big greasy pizza? Tempura or not, sushi generally falls on the light side of takeout in my book.

When I recently decided to have a home-made sushi night one evening, having a batch of freshly made cashew cream cheese on hand, I decided to experiment by adding it to my sushi. The result was an amazing surprise that I'm actually amazed that I didn't see coming. The cream cheese, scallions, rice and sesame seeds mingled in my mouth to recreate just the right hint of that sloppy, cheesy bagel I was once so fond of, but like, in a way lighter and healthier way. Oh, and with wasabi, so way better :)

Once again, I'd like to mention that my instruction below on rolling sushi can't compete with youtube, so if you need some extra guidance check out this video or this one for inside out rolls - I opted for inside out when making this recipe, but that's your call.

Vegan Cream Cheese and Veggie Sushi

Makes 2 rolls (8 pieces each)

For the Rice

2/3 cup sushi rice
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp. water
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. rice vinegar

For the Filling

4 asparagus spears, trimmed
1/2 cucumber, seeded and sliced into matchstick strips
2 scallions

2 sheets of nori
sesame seeds
wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger for serving

Rinse rice under cold running water for 1-2 minutes. Place in a small saucepan with other rice ingredients and heat to a simmer. Cover and allow to simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to sit for another 10 minutes, covered.

While your rice cooks and sits, get your filling ingredients ready. Boil some water in large saucepan. Remove from heat and blanch asparagus spears for about two minutes, or until bright green. Transfer to an ice water bath.

Wrap a bamboo mat in plastic wrap and place nori over top. Keep a small bowl of water nearby and wet your fingertips. Distribute half of your rice in an even layer over nori. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Carefully invert your rice covered nori, so that the rice layer sits on the plastic wrap and nori is face up. Arrange half of your veggies in a single strip across the width of your nori, about an inch away from you. 

Using a spoon, pastry bag or even your fingers, distribute a single line of cream cheese right on top of your veggie strip. Now carefully roll the end of the nori closest to you over your veggie strip, tucking and squeezing to get it nice and tight. Continue rolling until you reach the end. 

Take your roll and place it seam side down on a cutting board. Using a big, sharp knife, cut into eight pieces. 

Repeat using remaining ingredients. Serve with wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger.

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