May 20, 2018

From the Kitchens of YamChops: review and recipe

When I was first offered a review copy of From the Kitchens of YamChops, a cookbook by Michael Abramson, chef and founder of YamChops, the first vegan butcher shop in North America (Toronto, Canada), I suspected it was all about seitan and other meat substitutes, but I was wrong. That's Wrong with a capital W. When I started looking through the recipes, I was bookmarking so many I wanted to try I ran out of bookmarks, and had to tear up a sheet of newspaper so I could keep saving pages. And none of them involved seitan. Don't get me wrong, I love(d) seitan, until I realized I could continue to endure cramps and intestinal disturbance, or stop eating gluten. So I stopped. But while YamChops has its share of gluten-based recipes, if you are gluten-free, there's a ton of stuff for you, too. There's something for everyone, and it's delicious.

"Some might say that a vegan butcher is an oxymoron, but we believe plant-based proteins can (and should) be staples of any kitchen or diet," writes Abramson in the introduction. "Our recipes appeal to all types of eaters: vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians — those who are trying to reduce their meat and dairy consumption."
There are six chapters — Mouthwatering meatless mains; Selfie-worthy appetizers and sides; Bold bowls, broths and brews; Remarkable salads, slaws and dips; Sensational sauces, salsas and chutneys; Scrumptious chocolate endings. There are no ingredient chapters, no how-to chapters, no substitutions chapters, etc. It's all about the recipes. There are easy and basic recipes for everyday, and more exotic ones that would work well for entertaining.  When I look through the book, I get hungry.   

Lemon lentil soup.

The first recipe we tried came from a disagreement. My husband wanted lentil soup for dinner and I did not. I think he would eat lentil soup every night, and I get sick of it. However, when I saw there was a lentil soup recipe in YamChops, I compromised — he could make lentil soup if he used the YamChops recipe. I wasn't expecting it to be so good! This easy-to-make soup was so flavorful and delicious it's become our go-to lentil soup recipe. It was a lentil soup revelation. Really.

Cumin-lime, black bean and quinoa bowl.

Next we tried the Cumin-lime, black bean and quinoa bowl. We tend to go for the simpler, everyday recipes that we happen to already have the ingredients for, since we're not the greatest at planning ahead. Although the ingredients seemed quotidian, the results were anything but. The sauce and the roasted sweet potatoes made the bowl scrumptious and satisfying. We cut back a bit on the oil, and used arugula instead of spring mix, but the bowl was still fabulous. (The publisher has given me permission to share the recipe, and you'll find it at the end of the review.)

mozzarella cheese.

In the sauce chapter there's a recipe for mozzarella cheese, and I was curious to see if it was better than other mozzarella recipes I've made in the past. It called for a small amount of coconut oil but didn't specify virgin or refined. I knew if I used virgin, the coconut flavor would be there, but maybe the cheese flavor needed that. There was no clue from the recipe so I used half and half.

mozzarella cheese, sliced.

The cheese is slice-able, grate-able and it melts and browns. At first I didn't like it — it had a sweetish, slight coconut taste. It didn't taste like mozzarella and I thought it needed more salt. I personally wouldn't serve it sliced as an appetizer.

Mozzarella, melted.

Then, I melted it on toast in my air fryer, and I became hooked. So what if it doesn't taste exactly like mozzarella? When I sprinkled it with oregano, sea salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, it tasted so good I just couldn't stop eating it, which was fine since I had a refrigerator full of the stuff. Look at it — you can't deny the melted beauty of this cheese. (Although the cheese is supposed to be grate-able, I didn't test this out. All of the melted mozzarella you see in the review was melted from slices.)

Black bean meatless meatballs.

I wanted to make something from the meatless mains chapter, and since I had a ton of cheese, and a stack of frozen pizza crusts from a local restaurant, it seemed logical to make a meatball and mozzarella pizza. Wouldn't you? The meatballs were tasty, with a slightly chewy texture. Though they didn't taste like meat, they looked like it, and they tasted great.

Black bean meatless meatballs and mozzarella pizza.

I cut them in half and topped them with extra tomato sauce for a thoroughly delightful pizza.

Meatball sandwich.

In the cookbook, the meatballs are shown in a meatball sub sandwich, which is kind of hard to pull off in a gluten-free version without advance planning to locate the rolls. Here's my version. The only thing I'm missing (beside the rolls) are the fried onions. Next time.

Chocolate banana cream pie.

My review wouldn't be complete if I had ignored the chocolate chapter. After much indecision, I finally decided to make the chocolate banana cream pie. Actually, I made half a recipe, and used a small pie plate rather than the nine-inch size listed. The crust was a bit scarce but I had tons of filling. The crust didn't work well for me, though I tried to follow the directions. Although it's delicious, it's very sticky and doesn't stay attached to the filling. The filling though is spectacular — thick, firm, rich, chocolatey and perfect. I may have to try again with a different crust — the pie is too good to only make once.

Finally, here's the recipe I promised. Enjoy!
(Reprinted with permission from From the Kitchen of YamChops by Michael Abramson, Page Street Publishing Co. 2018. Photo credit: Vincenzo Pistritto)

Cumin-Lime, Black Bean and Quinoa Bowl

"You know the feeling when everything just melds together in perfect harmony? This is that feeling. Warming cumin, tart lime and sweet maple syrup combine to elevate the flavor of everything else in this bowl of goodness."   Serves 6

  • 1½ cups (200 g) sweet potato peeled and cut in ½-inch (13-mm) cube
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Spring mix
  • 1½ cups (277 g) cooked quinoa
  • 1½ cups (90 g) canned black beans, rinsed well
  • 1½ cups (75 g) grated carrot
Cumin-Lime Dressing
  • 1/8 cup (80 ml) fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp (10 g) grated carrot
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp (5 g) ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C).
  1. Place the sweet potato in a bowl, add oil and sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss well to coat and place the cubes on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Place in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes until golden and just beginning to brown. Mix every 5 minutes or so. When the sweet potatoes are ready, remove from the oven and set aside to cool. 
  2. To make the dressing, add the lime juice, syrup, carrot, garlic, cumin and salt to a blender and blend until smooth. With the blender running on low, slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream. Place the dressing in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
  3. Start with a base of spring mix in 6 shallow bowls. Divide the quinoa, black beans, carrot and potato among the bowls.
  4. Mix the dressing well and drizzle 2 generous tablespoons (30 ml) over each bowl.

May 14, 2018

Ate the kraut. Didn't get sick.

In my last post I described how I was making sauerkraut for the first time. I used a recipe in which the kraut was massaged with sea salt, then packed into a jar to ferment for two weeks. I've made lots of fermented foods over the years — I used to pickle an eight gallon crock full of green tomatoes every fall — and I've made my share of cucumber pickles. I also made quick fermented vegetables with a Japanese pickle press, and also stuff like cashew cheeses, but for some reason I've never fermented cabbage into sauerkraut. Sauerkraut has never been a favorite food of mine, but when I watched a video of it being made, I was suddenly obsessed with making my own. Go figure.

After the first week, I checked the kraut, and the liquid which had previously been overflowing to the point where I had to keep a saucer under the jar, was no longer covering the fermenting cabbage. I pushed down on the weight, and the liquid rose once again, so I knew I needed a heavier weight. I just want to mention here I have a 'small' problem with rocks. I collect them wherever I go, and there are numerous rocks inside and outside my house, so finding a heavier one wasn't an issue. In fact, family members have even brought me back rocks as gifts when they go on vacation, which is how I acquired the beauty atop my jar. Once I placed it on top, the liquid rose over the cabbage again. Problem solved.

After two weeks were up, I declared the kraut finished, and the weights were removed. The cabbage had gone from green to a much paler krauty color, but it had absorbed too much of the brine, and was unfortunately no longer submerged. After searching the Internet once again for additional kraut wisdom, and finding what I needed to know, I dissolved a teaspoon of sea salt in a cup of water and poured it over. It filled the jar exactly.

The moment of truth had arrived. You know, anytime I leave food fermenting on the counter for two weeks, I fear tasting it. My husband was out of town so I couldn't risk his life instead of mine — there was no choice but to dig in. It's good! I've been eating a small amount every day, and I like it! It's kind of plain, and I'm thinking of possibly enlivening it with some ginger, or caraway seed, or something.

And, yes, I have another cabbage waiting in the wings for the next batch. Making my own sauerkraut was easy and satisfying, and a lot cheaper than buying artisanal jars at the co-op. I may have to invest in another big canning jar for the next batch!

p.s. My husband has since tasted and approved the sauerkraut, though he says it could be more sour.

Want to see the video I watched before I made my sauerkraut? Part 1: The kraut is fermenting 

My second batch is now fermenting, and here are some changes I made:

1. I added two thin onion slices, shredded, and about an inch of fresh ginger, grated.

2. Massaging the kraut can be tiring to the hands, but I found I could massage more efficiently, and comfortably, by using my fists.

3. Pressing on the cabbage with a flat, heavy, clean stone is even better and faster!

May 04, 2018

The kraut is fermenting

Day one of placing the cabbage into the jar.

This post is going to be a serial, since the food I'm making takes two weeks, and I thought I'd post my progress rather than wait until the end. I'm making sauerkraut. I've made sauerkraut and other fermented foods in the past, but this time I'm following the lead of Michelle Babb, and making it the way she instructs in the video I'm sharing with you. A couple of weeks ago I took a cooking class from Michelle called anti-inflammatory eating for healthy aging. She made several incredibly delicious dishes for us to try, using anti-inflammatory foods, one of which, to my horror, turned out to be fennel. Fennel, black licorice, anise — I've spent years trying to tolerate the taste so I can eat things like five-spice powder and pho. I've had roasted fennel bulb, and it was excellent, but in our class, we had a raw fennel and spring onion salad, and I ate it and liked it! It was made with the raw fennel bulb, not the greens.

Michelle talked a lot about feeding our microbiome, and one of the ways to do that is with small amounts of fermented foods. During the class, she shared with us that she had posted a video of herself making sauerkraut, on her facebook page, and she then went on to demonstrate the sauerkraut-making process in class. (The video is very complete so I won't spend a lot of time here describing the process.) It looked so easy. Shredding the three-pound cabbage and massaging it take a bit of time and effort, but not so much as to make it a chore. In the first photo above, you can see the cabbage just after I pressed it into the jar, still pretty green. I placed a heavy mortar with a weighty stone in it onto the cabbage to help press it down. The massaging and pressing into the jar created so much liquid it spilled over onto the dish I placed under the jar to catch overflow. I've lifted the towel so you can see my just starting sauerkraut. (I'm using one liter (32oz.) preserving jars from Le Parfait that I bought at the hardware store for about $10 each. There are certainly cheaper jars out there, but I really like this one.)

Foam is forming at the top.

Here's the jar on day five. There is foam at the top of the jar. It smells like sauerkraut, and doesn't seem spoiled, but is foam supposed to be there?

Closeup of the foam.

Even after all the foods I've fermented in my kitchen, I still get nervous about bad bacteria and spoilage. I'll let you know how it turns out! Have you made sauerkraut?

Here is the video I followed to make my kraut. Michelle is a lifestyle and nutrition coach who describes herself as a wannabe vegan. She seems to be moving in that direction but isn't quite there yet, though the class was 100% vegan. Here is a link to the videos on her facebook page. 

1. I've got a second batch going, and I made a couple of changes. I added two thin onion slices, shredded, and about an inch of fresh ginger, grated.

2. Massaging the kraut can be tiring to the hands, but I found I could massage more efficiently, and comfortably, by using my fists.

3. Pressing with a flat, heavy, clean stone is even better!

Want to know how the first batch turned out?  Part 2: Ate the kraut. Didn't get sick.