February 24, 2016

1, 2, 3 eat

When you don't have enough time, energy or will to cook, what do you make? My husband and I like to cook, but sometimes we just don't feel like cooking, for one reason or another. Here's a little compilation of 'fast food' that may be found on our table on any given day.

The first is my favorite kind of fast food — leftovers. At the back of the plate are two leftover Ethiopian dishes from one of our favorite cookbooks, Teff Love by Kittee Berns. It was made the night before when we did feel like cooking. Come to think of it, it was actually from two nights before, and by the third day, we were out of injera, so the leftovers were paired with sautéed mushrooms and frozen broccoli.

Here's a tasty lunch bowl made from leftover lentils, potatoes and brussels sprouts. Thank heavens for leftovers.

A simple stir-fry can be a quick way to manage lunch or dinner. Tofu and shredded cabbage cook in a flash, and you can add your favorite seasonings — or just salt and pepper if you're really feeling lazy.

Here's another quick stir-fry variation — this time with tofu, mushrooms, bok choy and mung bean noodles. There was a bit of leftover sauce in the refrigerator from a recent, more ambitious dinner, and it made the perfect finishing touch to a fast and simple lunch.

If all else fails, there's always takeout. My plate is filled with tofu skin hot pot, Japanese rice noodles and brown rice from Bamboo Garden — a vegan Chinese restaurant in Seattle.

February 17, 2016

Chickpea peanut butter blondies

With my granddaughter coming for an overnight, I was looking for a quick, (healthy) dessert to throw together, and I remembered a recipe for flourless chickpea blondies with sea salt I had saved. As I gathered the ingredients together, I began to realize I hadn't really read through the recipe carefully before deciding to make it. I knew it had chickpeas and peanut butter, but had somehow missed the true meaning of the 'flourless' part. In addition to the two ingredients mentioned, there was a small amount of maple syrup, and the usual incidentals like salt, leavening and vanilla — and, of course, chocolate chips — but no flour. None. I couldn't believe the recipe would work, so I added 1/4 cup GF flour mix just to ease my mind, but I wouldn't do that again because it's probably not necessary.

Before writing this post, I googled 'chickpea peanut butter blondies', and as you might expect, a ton of recipes popped up, some exactly the same as the one I had followed, and many others with only a slight change to one ingredient or another. I looked at recipes dating back to 2009. Only one of the blogs and videos I looked at gave credit either for the recipe, or for inspiration, even though the recipes were essentially the same. (This is something that drives me a more than a little crazy, but it's a topic for another day.) Since the recipe is obviously not a secret, I'm going to mention I found it here, and just go ahead and list the ingredients I used, minus the flour, which I now believe you don't need. My 8-year-old granddaughter, by the way, loved the blondies. She ate one as an appetizer before dinner, one for dessert, and two for breakfast. (Don't be upset about breakfast. She also had blueberries, cereal and almond milk.)

Flourless chickpea peanut butter chocolate chip blondies
 (makes 16)
  • oil for the pan
  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup all natural peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup or agave nectar (You may need to add more sweetener. You can add up to 1/4 cup natural sugar, or, 15 drops of pure stevia.)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup vegan chocolate chips plus 2 tablespoons
  • coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and oil an 8x8-inch pan. 
  2. Place chickpeas, peanut butter, maple syrup, vanilla, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a food processor bowl, and process until the batter is smooth. Taste the batter for sweetness, and if not sweet enough for your taste, add sugar or stevia as suggested in the ingredients list.
  3. Fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips. 
  4. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips on top, and gently press partly into the batter.  
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the edges are a bit brown. The batter may look underdone, but that's as it should be.
    Cool the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Sprinkle very lightly with coarse sea salt and cut into 16 squares. 
If you, like me, somehow missed the recipe in the many times it's circled the blogosphere, now is your chance to catch up!

February 09, 2016

Banh Mi salad taco, anyone? / The BEST blue corn tortillas

Bahn Mi Salad from Veggie Grill — as a taco.

Making a pierogi quesadilla, recently, was the perfect introduction to the thought that using tortillas in nontraditional ways is a superb idea — Pad Thai taco, anyone? Since attending a talk by two of the authors of The Taco Cleanse,* I now understand you can put anything you want into a tortilla and call it a taco. Truthfully, there are so many wonderful-sounding recipes in The Taco Cleanse there's really no need to throw chow mein into a taco, but what if you don't want to cook. What if you don't have time? What if you pick up a bahn mi salad from Veggie Grill but are on a serious taco cleanse? No need to break the cleanse. A bahn mi salad makes a perfect taco, although I recommend warming the salad a bit first. I like it best with the kale just a bit wilted.

As I said, I've expanded my understanding of taco fillings. Our Saturday night tacos from the distant past were always the same — beans, shredded lettuce, cheese, salsa on a crunchy, store-bought taco shell. Now we are much more creative. The one above has curried tofu, cucumber and sauerkraut. Is that too weird?

And here we have a leftover-stir-fry taco. So many possibilities, don't you think?

Our happy, new, random taco life was smoothly coasting along when two events occurred — my son and his girlfriend mailed me a package of their favorite masa harina from San Francisco, and shortly after that, the tortilla press I ordered from Amazon.com arrived. (Unbeknownst to me, Jordan and Alison had been enjoying fresh tortillas for some time, thanks to Alison's cooking skills. They even had a tortilla press!) The ultra fine-textured masa harina they love (and with which they were thoughtful enough to surprise me) is made from blue corn, and the tortillas I made using it were unbelievable. They were softer and chewier than the yellow corn tortillas, and had a wonderful flavor. The brand is Tortillas de la Tierra, and I think they buy it at the farmers market. (If you live in the Bay Area and want to purchase some, leave a question in the comments and I'll get more specific information.)

And do I like the tortilla press you're wondering? Yes. I can't believe how easy it is to press the tortillas into perfect circles — I want to make tortillas just so I can use it. No regrets on adding it to my kitchen collection. However, although I purchased the 8-inch press, if I were to do it again, I'd get the 6-inch.

Inspired by the press and the lovely masa harina, my husband made deeply roasted chipotle butternut squash from The Taco Cleanse cookbook to fill our gorgeous blue corn tortillas, Except for cutting up the squash, it was really easy to make, and tasted great — very spicy in the bowl, but just perfect once it got into the tortillas.

We garnished our tacos with salsa and baked almond feta — another post for another day.

Do your tacos tend towards the traditional or the unusual?

*We were having so much fun with The Taco Cleanse, I just couldn't keep it to myself — I've bought four copies so far for family members and for us. The book is actually sold out on Amazon, and they are waiting for a new supply. I found all of my copies in local bookstores, but if you are heading out to buy one, you might want to call ahead to see if it's in stock.

February 05, 2016

South Indian cooking class

A few weeks ago we took a South Indian cooking class at Spice Route, a restaurant we like located not far from Seattle, in Bellevue.  The class was described as including a tomato chutney, a sambar-lentil soup, and dosa. And a full meal. We sometimes cook Indian food at home, and enjoy eating in Indian restaurants, but have never had a close-up look at the food preparation via a class. I'm especially attracted to the unique flavors of South Indian cooking so this seemed like a good opportunity to enhance our knowledge and skills.

The class began with each of us briefly explaining why we became vegan — or for the one non-vegan — why she was taking the class. (Her family roots were in South India but she grew up in the Pacific Northwest and knew little about how to cook the traditional foods of her heritage.) Then the instructor began describing the cuisine(s) of South India, and the diverse, heavily vegan/vegetarian population living in the region. He talked about the ingredients and spices he was using, some of which you can see in the above photo. Someone asked if we should be taking notes or if we would be receiving information and recipe sheets, and we were told we didn't need to take notes as the recipes and such would be emailed to us. I prefer to have handouts at the beginning of class so I can add my own notes, which is what we usually encounter in cooking classes we've taken.

As the teacher spoke, he prepared the tomato chutney. I wish I could tell you what was in it but alas, we never received any post-class information.

He also cooked the sambar. Watching him cook, I realized I was missing a key ingredient in my spice collection — hing. He added quite a bit of hing to the food. He also seemed to be adding a large amount of salt, which he said was necessary to develop the flavor. Salt, like sugar, has addictive qualities, and the more you use, the more you want. Since I tend to limit my salt intake, the food in the class, delicious as it was, tasted very salty to me, and I was extremely thirsty after eating it. I don't like having to get past the salt taste to be able to experience the flavors of my food.

When I first read the class description, and saw dosa on the list, I was pretty excited, but once at the actual class, I realized it was a bit misleading. I LOVE masala dosa, and have always wanted to know how to make my own. I've read about making them but I thought a first-hand lesson would be helpful. Our teacher told us less than I already knew about the subject, and we got to watch someone cook dosa on the grill, not learn how to make them. Eating masala dosa is pretty great, but it's not the same as learning to make them.

On my plate you can see the foods cooked in class, along with idli, a wonderful thick, spongy pancake made from rice and Urad Daal, and a couple of bonus chutneys — the beige one is coconut chutney.  Like dosa batter, idli requires fermentation, and our teacher told us it was too hard for us to make it in class. I guess that means I'll have to teach myself.

In the above photo, you can see a cook making dosa on the grill.

The demonstration was great, the food was delicious, and I was stuffed, but I'm still a little miffed that we weren't given recipes and ingredient lists. I understand that traditional cooks don't measure ingredients, but even approximate amounts and recipe techniques and steps would would be helpful. I have no idea how to make any of the things we theoretically 'learned' to make in class. I guess it's back to my cookbooks, the Internet and blogs to find out what I want to know about South Indian cooking! The cookbooks I currently have are Dakshin Vegetarian Cuisine From South India by Chandra Padmanabhan, and a really oldie but goodie called The Yogi Cookbook by Yogi Vithaldas. Do you have a favorite Indian cookbook?