May 18, 2012

Flatbreads with Creamy Red Pepper Scallion Spread

Makes 4 flatbreads (serves 4 to 8)
Active time: 30 minutes (you’ll need to let the bread rise for at least an hour, though)


The inspiration for this was pretty straightforward: I saw a blonde lady on the Cooking Channel make something just like it! And it just so happened I had some dough that I was going to use for pizza, but a flatbread became a much better idea. After all, it’s springtime! My grill was calling to me and the thought of lots of fresh greens over a creamy, springy spread sounded too good to resist.

But what’s the difference, really, between a dressed up flatbread and a pizza? Not much, I suppose. I could easily call this a grilled pizza and not get too many sideways glances. But it probably comes down to this: I call something a flatbread when it’s shaped all funny and the toppings are added after the dough is baked instead of before.

The end result is perfect for an evening around the picnic table, or fire escape, or wherever you may be (but definitely try to eat outdoors.) A beautiful charred bread, all aromatic and crispy outside, made especially so from a handful of cornmeal. The spread is nicely thick, creamy and garlicky, but still light and refreshing with bits of red pepper and scallion. It’s a cinch to put together in the food processor! Sort of ends up like a vegetable cream cheese, so if you’re in the market for something to put on your bagels, this may be your answer. And on top is a lightly dressed salad (totally casual – olive oil and lemon), making this meal perfectly seasonal, fun to eat and pretty as all hell to look at. I also threw on a few toasted walnuts because everything should have toasted walnuts.

Recipe Notes

~Bread flour is a newer pantry ingredient for me. Usually I use all-purpose because it’s always on hand in my kitchen, and probably yours, too. But I love the crusty chewiness that higher-protein bread flour gives flatbread, and so if it’s not an ingredient you usually keep on hand, give it a shot and see what you think! The difference might be just enough to convince you to keep it around always for emergency pizzas.

~ What I really love about this rustic flatbread method, is that you don’t hafta’ worry too much about getting perfectly shaped breads. Aim for something oval, and whatever happens after that is beautiful serendipity. The dough is nice and firm, too, so the trip from countertop to grill top isn’t incredibly harrowing. It should make it there in one piece and without too much trouble.

~There are so many fun things you can do with flatbread, it quite literally can be your canvas! Try it with edamame pesto, romesco sauce or even hummus. Top with arugula or kale or really anything in the world you can think of. Throw on some olives, toasted pine nuts, chopped sausages, tempeh bacon…google it up and see what other people are doing, steal those ideas, transform them and come up with your own enticing creations.

~ I knead bread in a standing mixer, but of course, you can knead by hand! It will take a bit longer, naturally.

~ Medium grind corn meal is used here. The coarse grind is a bit too grainy for me and the fine ground is hardly detectable. But if you don’t see what size grind your cornflour is on the package, don’t sweat it, it’ll come out yummy no matter what.

~ If you prefer to bake the breads, you can do so in a 450 F oven, for 12 to 15 minutes. Place directly on a baking stone for the crispiest results, but a large baking sheet will work, too!

~ For the best time management, make the spread while the dough is rising. It’s as easy as throwing together hummus.

For the Flatbread:

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the bowl
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 cups bread flour (or a little less, see directions)
  • 1/2 cup medium grind cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the Scallion Spread:

  • 1/2 cup cashews (unroasted)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, drained
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional, but it makes it a bit more creamy)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper, seeds removed, chopped

For the salad:

  • 6 cups baby mixed salad greens
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Big pinch salt

To serve:

  • A handful of toasted walnuts
  • Additional thinly sliced red bell pepper (the remainder of the half you used for the spread)

Make the spread:
In a food processor, chop the cashews into coarse crumbs. Add the garlic and pulse to incorporate. Crumble the tofu in your hands and drop it in. Add the lemon juice, olive oil (if using), nutritional yeast, salt and pepper and blend until relatively smooth, a little texture from the nuts is great.

Add the scallions and red pepper and pulse until they’re chopped into tiny bits. You don’t want them to be completely pureed, make sure that there’s some crunch from the red peppers.

Taste for salt and seasonings. If it needs anything else, don’t puree again, just remove the blade, scrape everything into the bowl and gently mix in with a fork. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the flatbreads:
Add water and sugar to the bowl of a standing mixer fit with a dough hook. Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for 5 minutes to bloom.

Mix in the olive oil then Add one cup of the flour along with the salt. Mix on low until well incorporated, and then turn the speed up to medium and mix for 3 minutes.

Add another 1/2 cup of flour and the 1/2 cup of cornmeal, and mix well, starting on low and then switching to medium speed. Then add another 1/2 cup of flour, again starting on low and switching to medium. Knead on medium for about 5 minutes. You may occasionally have to get in there with your hands if the dough starts climbing up the hook. It should become smooth and elastic and slightly tacky. At this point, incorporate flour by the tablespoon, with the mixer running. When it starts to seem dry, stop adding flour. This could be anywhere between 1/4 and 1/2 cup. Knead again on medium until it is elastic easy to stretch, about 8 more minutes.

Meanwhile, drizzle about two tablespoons of olive oil into a large mixing bowl. The dough will double in size, so make sure you have enough room. Form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl, tossing it around to coat with oil. Cover the top in plastic wrap and put in a warm place. Let dough rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

When dough has doubled, fire up your grill. Keep the flame high and close the lid. If you have a thermometer, it should be at about 500 F.

Punch the dough down, give it a quick knead and tear it into 4 equal-ish pieces. On a large cutting board, form each piece into an oval that is about 8 inches long and 5 inches across. I just use my hands for this, but you can use a rolling pin if you prefer.

Place the dough on the grill. It should take about 3 to 4 minutes for the bottoms to get grill marks and become firm. If it takes a little longer that’s cool, but definitely check one after 3 minutes. Use tongs to flip the bread over and cook for another 2 minutes or so, until grill marks appear.

Remove breads from the grill with tongs and place on the large cutting board. Keep covered with a kitchen towel to keep warm until ready to use.

Prepare the salad:
At the last minute so that they’re as fresh as can be, use a large bowl to toss the salad greens with lemon, olive oil and a big pinch of salt.

Use the back of a spoon to spread the Scallion Spread onto the flatbread. Top with handfuls of dressed greens and scatter on toasted walnuts and red pepper, if desired. Slice in half with a pizza slicer, if you like, and serve! (Confession: we did not slice these in half, we just gobbled them down.)

April 19, 2012

Jerk Sloppy Joes With Coconut Creamed Spinach

Serves 4 to 6
Time: 45 minutes

Jerk Sloppy Joes

Oi vey has life been hectic over the past few weeks! I’ve been traveling a ton, as well as working on a new solo cookbook and wrapping up the desserts for the Forks Over Knives cookbook. On top of that, I’m working on a few other projects that I’ll talk about soon. Point being, I’ve been a little remiss in my blogging duties, but this is a good one and just might make up for my month of silence.

My recent travels took me to NYC and Austin, Texas where I was spoiled to death by all of the amazing vegan food. From migas to tamales to dumplings to curries, my palate was blessedly overstimulated and I arrived back home in Omaha with some major cravings for big flavors. This was the first meal I cooked as soon as I settled in. It combines my love for sauteed callaloo and West Indian jerk sauces (which I miss more than anything!) with my love for sloppy, saucy midwestern sandwiches. Callaloo comes from the leaves of the taro plant, which is virtually impossible to find in the midwest, but spinach makes a great stand in. This Sloppy Joe, made with seitan, is stick-to-your-ribs spicy and tangy, and the spinach is cooling and creamy with coconut and the ethereal sweet licorice flavor of star anise, which is a component in lots of Jamaican curry powders.

To time everything right, start the spinach when you add the tomatoes to the seitan. Of course, you can just enjoy the Sloppy Joes on their own sans spinach (but don’t you love your veggies?) or enjoy the spinach alongside any other jerk sorta’ recipe. And if you don’t feel like having sandwiches, this would be pretty awesome over rice, too.

Oh and I was considering calling these Sloppy Jerks or Jerky Joes, so in the privacy of your own home, feel free to call them whatever you like!

For the Sloppy Joe:
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coconut oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced medium
1 pound seitan, chopped into bite sized pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Several dashes fresh black pepper
14 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons yellow mustard

For the spinach:
2 teaspoons coconut oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 lb spinach, washed well, stems removed
1 cup coconut milk (regular or light)
2 star anise
1/4 teaspoon salt

To serve:
4 to 6 big sandwich buns

Prepare the Sloppy Joe:
Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Saute onion in one tablespoon coconut oil and a pinch of salt, until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the seitan and cook for about 10 minutes, until nicely browned, stirring often. Push the seitan and onions to one side of the pan so that you have space to quickly saute the garlic and ginger. Put the remaining teaspoon of coconut oil in the pan and toss in the garlic and ginger, stirring as it sizzles, for about 15 seconds. Then mix it up with the seitan and onions.

Add thyme, paprika, salt, allspice, red pepper flakes, cinnamon and black pepper and toss to coat everything and cook the spices a bit.

Add the tomatoes, and cook for about 10 more minutes, tossing often. Lastly, mix in the maple syrup, lime juice and mustard. Let cook for a minute or so, then taste for salt and seasonings, and serve.

Prepare the spinach:
Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Quickly saute the garlic in coconut oil, just so it sizzles for a few seconds, being careful that it doesn’t burn. Add the spinach in batches, tossing with tongs, until it is all wilted and fits in the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes, until a lot of moisture is released.

Now we’re going to get rid of the excess moisture, but try not to lose any garlic or spinach in the process. Shove the spinach off to one side, and carefully (don’t burn yourself, dummy!) lift the pan and drain the excess water into the sink. The spinach might all just behave itself and stay on one side of the pot, but use the tongs to keep it from falling into the sink just in case.

Now return to the heat, add the coconut milk, star anise and salt. Bring coconut milk to a boil and stir often, for about 5 minutes, so that the star anise releases its flavor. Turn the heat off and let it rest for 10 minutes or so, soaking up the coconut milk yumminess.

March 21, 2012

Tamale Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 8
Time: 1 hour || Active time: 30 minutes

Tamale Shepherds Pie

Who among us doesn’t love mashed potatoes? Add something spicy, savory and stewy bubbling underneath and it pretty much takes that love over the top and into creepy obsession territory.

Since I’m about to make my first ever foray into the Lone Star State at next weekend’s Texas VegFest in Austin, I was feeling kinda’ Tex-Mex this week. Enter tamale pie! Well, almost. I realized that I was too low on my masa harina to execute a real tamale pie, but what I lacked in corn flour I made up for in potatoes. And thus the Tamale Shepherd’s Pie was born!

A creamy layer of lime-kissed mashed red potatoes over a succulent and spicy stew of black beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, poblano peppers and corn, with a few of the usual southwestern flavors thrown in. To give it true tamale flavor, a few handfuls of crumbled up tortilla chips tossed into the stew do the trick. It’s the perfect meal for these rainy months at the beginning of Spring. I love how the red potatoes look on top, adding flecks of pretty blush. It makes a ton, too, and leftovers taste just as good.

Recipe notes:
To get this done quickly, boil the potatoes first. Then begin the stew. Both components should come together within half an hour and then you just bake and wait. You can adjust the spice level to your liking by (obviously) adjusting the hot sauce and red pepper flakes. As is, I’d say it’s a low-medium spicy. Don’t forget to preheat the oven right about when you add the tomatoes and corn to the stew, that way everything is ready to go.

OK everyone, enjoy and I’ll see you in Texas!

For the mashed potato layer:
2 1/2 lbs unpeeled red potatoes, cut into big chunks (1 1/2 inches or so)
1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 scant teaspoon grated lime zest
3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

For the stew:
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra)
1 onion, diced medium
1 poblano pepper, seeded, diced medium
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz mushrooms, cut in half and sliced 1/4 inch thick or so
1 cup lightly packed cilantro, chopped
1 1/4 lbs plum tomatoes (about 6), chopped
1/2 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup dry red wine
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 ounces tortilla chips (about 4 good-sized handfuls)
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons Frank’s red hot hot sauce (plus extra for serving)
3 cups cooked black beans (2 15 oz cans rinsed and drained)

I garnished with: Hot red chilis, fresh cilantro and lime slices

Tamale Shepherds Pie

Place potatoes in a pot and submerge in salted water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Drain potatoes and immediately transfer them back into the pot. It’s important to do this while everything is still hot. Give them a quick preliminary mash, then add the milk, olive oil, lime zest and salt. Mash until creamy, taste for salt, then cover and set aside. (Note: I usually add black pepper, but decided not to here so that the lime really shines through. If you feel naked without it, though, go ahead and add some.)

To prepare the stew:
Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Saute onion and pepper in olive oil and a pinch of salt, until peppers are softened, about 10 minutes. In the meantime prep all your other ingredients.

Add garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add mushrooms and cilantro and cook until the mushrooms have released a lot of moisture, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, corn, wine, salt, cumin and red pepper flakes. Turn heat up and cover the pan, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes. The tomatoes should break down and become saucy (if corn was frozen it may take a bit longer.)

Now take the tortilla chips and crush them into fine crumbs with your hands. It’s ok if there are a few bigger pieces, but aim for crumbs. Add them to the stew and mix well. Since tortillas can be salty, wait until they’re added to taste for salt. Mix in the lime juice and hot sauce, then fold in the black beans and heat through. Now taste for salt and seasonings.

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a deep 11×13 casserole (cooking spray works just fine). Transfer the stew to the casserole and even it out with a spatula. Add the potatoes in dollops, and spread it into an even layer.

Place in oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until potatoes are lightly browned. Stick under the broiler for a minute or two just in case the browning isn’t happening. Serve hot garnished with cilantro, chili peppers and lime.

March 15, 2012

Pesto Risotto With Roasted Zucchini

Serves 6
Time: 45 minutes

Resto Risotto

Risotto and I have always been fairly sympatico. We have an understanding: I stir you, you get creamy. No big deal. But that was before reality cooking shows.

After one episode of Hell’s Kitchen you’ll be pretty convinced that risotto is the biggest, most backstabbingest heartbreaker there is. It will stop at nothing to betray you. Risotto makes Gordon Ramsey kick the trash can on the regular. It breaks. It burns. It refuses to cook. It jumps out of the pot and shivs you if it given half the chance. Sleep with one eye open.

To add to the anxiety, an episode of Next Food Network star featured Wolfgang Puck storming the kitchen to show a cheftestant how to make a proper risotto. She was, of course, in tears. The kind of tears reserved only for failed risotto. And most risottos are failures! Too stiff, too loose, too everything. It must be true because the canned soup guy says so!

But, wait, there’s a better way: make the risotto the way you prefer. If you’re not on reality TV, it probably won’t break or burn. If you add warm broth and stir it every few minutes it will probably get deliciously creamy. And if you prefer a stiffer risotto, that’s okay. If you want it to be a little more soupy and creamy, that’s okay, too. Just add more broth or maybe some cashew cream. I’m ok. You’re okay. Your risotto is okay.

About this recipe specifically, it’s one of my favorite ways to prepare risotto. Adding pesto in stages, building the flavor, with lots of white wine, creates a really sensual dish that makes you feel pretty fancy and accomplished.

The zuke is very simple, which is just how I like it. Still kind of crunchy but roasty and toasty with lots of garlicky flavor. You can toss it over the top or mix it in, whatever floats your zucchini boat. Then top with extra toasted pine nuts for extra fanciness and nutty texture.

There is at least one golden rule, the broth needs to be warm when you add it. I usually keep my broth warming in a pot on the stovetop like a good girl, but if I’ve got too much going on I’m not against keeping it in a microwave safe bowl and nuking it every now again. You gotta do what you gotta do! In any case, keep the broth warm for best results. At least it will help to ward off the Gordans and Wolfgangs of the world.

For the risotto:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups or so vegetable broth
3/4 cup pesto (I recommend Bestest Pesto, it makes plenty)
1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less depending on how salty your broth and pesto are, so taste for salt often)
Fresh black pepper

For the zucchini:
1 lb zucchini, cut on on a bias into chunky half moons
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced

Extra toasted pinenuts
Extra pesto for drizzling

Warm the vegetable broth in a saucepan. Keep it warm on the lowest setting possible as you prepare the risotto.

Preheat the oven to 425 F for the zucchini, and have ready a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Now let’s make the risotto! Preheat a heavy-bottomed 4 quart pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion in oil and a pinch of salt until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the rice and use a wooden spoon to stir and coat with oil. Add the white wine and stir occasionally, until wine is mostly absorbed, 4 minutes or so. Add a few dashes fresh black pepper, and half of the salt. Turn the heat down just a bit to medium-low.

Add the broth by the cupful, stirring the risotto after each addition until the broth is mostly absorbed (6 to 8 minutes). After 2 cupfuls, add about half of the pesto and stir well, then continue to cook, adding broth by the cupful, stirring, and letting the liquid absorb.

At some point in there, your oven will be preheated. Toss the zucchini with oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Roast for about 6 minutes on each side, or until softened and lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

With your last addition of broth, add the remainder of the pesto. Taste for salt and add the other 1/4 teaspoon if needed. Risotto is ready when the rice is chewy but still firm, and the sauce is very creamy. For a firmer risotto, just cook a few minutes extra to absorb more of the liquid.

To serve: scoop risotto into each bowl, and top with zucchini. Drizzle with extra pesto and garnish with a few toasted pine nuts.

March 6, 2012

Roasty Soba Bowl With Miso Tahini

Serves 4
Time: 30 mins (or 45 minutes if you don’t have lentils prepared)

Miso Bowl

If you’ve been vegetarian for any amount of time, or ever even just casually glanced at the menu of your friendly neighborhood co-op cafe, you’ll surely be familiar with “The Bowl.” That upside down hardhat brimming with healthy and yummy ingredients. But what sets a bowl apart from other types of entrees? Let’s go over some of the unique characteristics that give a bowl its bowlness.

At its most basic, a bowl is made up of a grain, a green, a ‘tein and a sauce. In general, all of the components are prepared very simply, except for the sauce, which is the main flavor component. Of course rules are made to be bent if not broken, but just because you put a bunch of stuff in a bowl, doesn’t make it a bowl proper. Let’s examine each component.

The grain is usually brown rice or quinoa, but it doesn’t even have to be a grain per se, just something wholesome and starchy, that will soak up lots of sauce. I use buckwheat soba noodles in this example. Barley, millet, amaranth, and bulgur are all great choices and I’ve even had whole wheat cous cous find its way into my bowls.

The greens are usually abundant and they don’t have to be green, any veggie will do. They’re often steamed, but roasted with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper is a great choice, too. A simple saute with garlic is about as elaborate as it gets when bowling, though. Common veggie candidates are cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, dark leafies like kale, zucchini… and often, especially at restaurants, you’ll get a nice mix of all of the above. Sometimes they’ll try and skimp by making the veggie mix half carrots, so if I’m ordering out I’ll often say “No carrots!” Nice try, cheapskate bowl makers of the world! I’ve roasted some cauliflower for this bowl because it brings a deep toastiness to the bowl, which is beautifully offset by the tangy sauce and mellow soba noodles and lentils.

The protein, again, is often very simple. If it’s a bean, it’s simmered just until tender and that’s about it. For tofu, a fairly dry run in the skillet is all it needs, a little salt and pepper. At most, it’s marinaded and baked and at the very least it’s steamed. Tempeh is treated fairly similarly. There are times when the protein and the sauce are combined. Maybe it’s a BBQ tempeh or a curried lentil. I think that’s getting into iffy territory, sneaking away from the definition of a bowl. But again, still permissible depending on what the other ingredients are. I’ve used my favorite…plain old brown lentils in this bowl. They’re unfussy, full of nutrition and tasty as all get out. I keep a container of cooked lentils in my fridge at all times, and there are even a few canned or frozen varieties out there. If you need to cook them on the spot, no biggie, they take only 45 minutes or so.

Now the sauce is what it’s all about. Here you can go for the gusto. In a way, the rest of the bowl is really just a vehicle for the sauce, which should be bursting with flavor, overflowing and smothering everything in its path. Still, though, the ingredients should be relatively simple. Instead of using 10 different things to get the flavor you crave, use a little finesse. Go for minimal ingredients that have strong flavors. Here I employed a classic duo: miso and tahini. Miso with its aged, tangy saltiness and the ethereal nuttiness of tahini make a creamy dreamy sauce that’s barely any work and requires no cooking. Bowl heaven!

So that’s what we talk about when we talk about bowls. The possibilities are endless. And so are the puns. Bowl me over.

 Miso Bowl

8 oz buckwheat soba noodles
2 cups cooked brown or green lentils
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into large florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Severeal dashes Fresh black pepper

For the dressing:
1/4 cup mellow white miso
1/4 cup tahini
1 cloves garlic
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water

Optional: fresh herbs for garnish (dill, cilantro and parsley are all good choices.)

Cook the lentils if you don’t already have prepared ones (1 cup dry is about 2 cups cooked.) While the water for the soba is boiling, preheat the oven to 425 F and chop the cauliflower into large florets. It’s easy to do this by chopping it in half lengthwise, pulling of the leafy base and then pulling off the florets with your hands.

When the water boils, prepare soba according to package directions. Once cooked, drain and set aside, rinsing with cold water to prevent sticking.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with non stick cooking spray. Toss the cauliflower on the with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, flipping once, until aromatic nicely toasted.

In the meantime, place all dressing ingredients in a small blender. A Magic Bullet works great here. Start with 1/2 cup water, and then add another 1/4 to thin, if you like.

Assemble the bowl:
Divide soba noodles into big bowls. Top with lentils, cauliflower and plenty of sauce. Garnish with herbs and serve!