February 23, 2012

Mango Fried Rice

Serves 4 to 6
Time: 30 minutes

Mango Fried Rice

The mango pricers of the world really need to work out a better system. It seems that they cost either an arm and a leg (not vegan) or they go on sale with such a surplus that the employees are practically throwing them at you like dodgeballs. There is no happy medium. So this week, life gave me mangoes and I needed to make something other than mango-ade.

Enter mango fried rice! This is actually modified from a pineapple fried rice recipe that I created one day during a bout of some serious homesickness. I miss Brooklyn! I miss walking to Prospect Park and watching a cricket game or a little league game or women’s softball. I miss walking around the loop with $5,000 dollar bikes and baby carriages whizzing by. I miss the beautiful fountain in the vale, spotting birds, and checking them off my birdwatching list. Orchard Oriole, Carolina Wren, Cedar Waxwing. I never thought that leaving Brooklyn would actually mean seeing less birds.

And after all that, happily spent from sitting around watching birds and people do things, I’d walk a few blocks to 7th avenue and get something to eat. One of my favorite things in the world was the pineapple fried rice from one of the million Thai spots on the strip. Omaha has Thai restaurants, of course, but there’s nothing here that even comes close to that fried rice. I guess that is kind of what my life has been about lately, taking some of my best memories and putting them together on a plate. And so that’s what I did.

This rice is tangy and spicy, pan fried with lots of ginger, garlic, and a little crushed coriander seed, then punctuated with seared but still snappy green beans, toasty cashews and juicy bits of sweet fruit. Then you finish it off with some lime and fresh basil leaves, making the dish so fragrant and heavenly that you might be inspired to start a Mango Fried Rice food cart. I didn’t make it too oily, but the frying is definitely a part of its addictiveness (although you can feel free to cut the oil by half or so). And hey, if you do start that cart, please come see me in Omaha!

I think this is a meal in itself, what with the cashews for protein, and the fiber from the veggies and rice. But if you want, you can saute up some tofu (use the Cast Iron Stirfry method) and toss it in, or try the Asian Baked Tofu from Veganomicon.

Recipe notes:
Thai basil has a more anise-licorice flavor and would be ideal here. It’s hard to get where I live and so I’ve grown accustomed to regular old basil in my Southeast Asian cooking. A thin metal spatula works best for this, because it slips under the rice easily, and prevents sticking. If you like, you can replace the mango with pineapple, no problemo.

I’m no mango-slicing aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s slapstick comedy to watch me dissect one. But this is what I do: peel off the skin with a veggie peeler, stand it on it’s head and use a chef’s knife to slice off one side along the pit. Once you’ve got that side sliced off, you can lay the mango on its side for balance and slice off the rest of the fruit, getting as close to the pit as possible. Then just cut into manageable pieces, they don’t have to be perfectly uniform, you’re not on Top Chef. But if you want to do a truly pro job on the mango, try this method from The Kitchn.

And lastly, the rice has to be cold for this recipe to work correctly, otherwise it will get mushy and sticky. Many supermarkets carry frozen bags of rice for reasonable prices. I’ve made this recipe with a standard 20 oz bag of rice in mind (Whole Foods has frozen Jasmine rice, even.) But you can certainly freeze your own! Just steam it up, fluff it and place in a mesh strainer. Refrigerate the rice to cool completely, while still in the colander so that it cools quickly and evenly. Then place rice in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use. I always keep a bag at the ready for quick weeknight meals, veggie burgers, what have you. For this recipe, you can just toss the rice in frozen. No big whoop.

Oh I lied…this is the last thing: to crush coriander seed, place in a plastic bag and roll a rolling pin across it (or a can of beans works, too.) Ok now, let’s get ricing!

3/4 cup unroasted cashews (if using roasted cashews, skip the toasting step)
6 oz green beans (about 1 1/2 cups), ends removed, sliced into 1 inch pieces

3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, divided
1 medium red onion, diced medium
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
2 teaspoons crushed coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cups cold jasmine rice
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce (tamari is gluten free, soy sauce is not)
1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce
1 tomato, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 mangos, peeled, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
15 basil leaves, chiffonade (that means rolled up and thinly sliced, but you can just chop it, too)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

To serve:
Extra Sriracha
Fresh cilantro (optional)

Preheat a large heavy bottomed pan (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Toss in the cashews and dry toast them for about 5 minutes, flipping occasionally. They should be slightly browned in some spots, but it’s okay if they’re unevenly browned, you don’t have to be too precise about it. Transfer cashews to a large plate.

Now we’re going to sear the green beans. Turn the heat on the pan up to medium-high. Add the green beans, a scant tablespoon of oil and a dash of salt. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the beans are bright green and seared. Transfer beans to the same plate as the cashews.

Add the onions to the pan along with another tablespoon of oil and a dash of salt. Toss for about 3 minutes, until onions are slightly charred but still firm. Add the garlic, ginger, coriander and red pepper flakes, and toss for 30 seconds are so, being careful not to burn.

Add another tablespoon of oil and about half of the cold rice. Toss to coat, then add in the remaining rice, tossing once again. Cook for about 3 minutes, tossing often, until warmed through.

Add the tamari, hot sauce and tomato, and toss. Cook for another 3 minutes, until the rice has browned sufficiently and the tomato is slightly broken down.

Add the string beans and cashews, mangoes, basil leaves and lime juice. Cook just until mangoes are heated through and basil is wilted, a minute or two. Taste for salt (don’t add more tamari, just add salt if it needs it) and serve, garnished with cilantro if you like, and with a bottle of Sriracha close by.

February 21, 2012

Cherry Chocolate Chunk Mini Loaves

Makes 8 mini loaves

Cherry Chocolate Chunk Mini Loaves

I’ve been pushing the loaf gospel for a few months now, but mini loaves are possibly even greater, because they offer faster baking times, portion control and that coveted adorability that we all look for in a baked good.

But why my obsession with loaves lately? I suppose I know. My 39th birthday came and went and I think that means I’m my version of an adult now. Not only do I not want all the excess of buttercream frostings, but I also just plain don’t feel like making a separate topping for my sweets. Confectioners sugar everywhere, a million dishes to do – grumble, grumble, get off my lawn. I guess I’m paring down and simplifying. Everything in one bowl and let’s get this show on the road, I got shtuff to do!

What I love about loaves is that they’re streamlined. They don’t need an icing, and they don’t seem naked without one. And unlike a muffin, they aren’t associated with anything healthy, and so you don’t expect a hemp seed to leap out and bite you on the nose (hate when that happens.) They’re homey and cozy and they’re definitely not attention seekers, unless the knowing glance from another wizened loaf-connoisseur is the attention you’re seeking. And I guess that’s where I am with my life right now. Fire places and bike trails, gardens and knit blankets. Loaves.

But simple doesn’t mean boring! I still want to have fun, and nothing says fun more than oozy chocolate and sweet jubilant cherries. Still fun, but not underwear-in-your-purse-looking-for-a-cab-at-4:15-am fun. That’s cupcake fun. Let’s have some loaf fun.

Chocolate Mini Loaf

Recipe notes: I love this method of mixing applesauce with nut butter as your fat. I think I invented it so don’t steal it. (TM!!!!) It gives you fiber and protein and nutrients that oil or straight-up applesauce in baked goods wouldn’t, and it’s also great for structure, crumb and flavor. I believe if you’re following a no-oil diet then this recipe is kosher for you (although you may want to remove the chocolate chips?)

This is the loaf pan I use and I love it.  It makes 8 loaves. Amazon has a similar one that gets good reviews. If you have smaller sized loaf pans, just be mindful that baking times may vary. Give about 3 to 5 more minutes for each extra loaf in your batch. If you want to use an 8×4 loaf pan then bake for about 50 minutes, up to an hour. If you want to use muffins, then 12 muffins should take about 20 minutes.

If you’re subbing for a nut allergy, try 2 tablespoons oil and one more tablespoon applesauce in place of the nut butter, or try sun or soynut butter.

Last note, I love to use chocolate chunks here because of the aforementioned ooziness. You can sub chocolate chips of course.

1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup natural almond butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup almond milk (or your preferred vegan milk), at room temp
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons boiling water, divided
3/4 cup dry sweetener (any type of sugar or evaporated cane juice)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chocolate extract (optional – you can use another t vanilla)
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz chocolate bar, chopped into 1/2 inch or so chunks
1 cup chopped sweet cherries (thawed if using frozen)

Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly spray a mini loaf pan with cooking spray. Also, boil some water in a tea kettle (no need to measure yet.)

Put applesauce, almond butter, milk and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl. Measure out 1/3 cup boiling water and pour into the bowl with the chocolate mixture, mixing quickly with a fork to make a thick chocolate sauce. Add sugar and extracts and mix well.

Sift about half of the flour, along with the baking soda and salt, into the chocolate mixture, and gently stir just to incorporate, then measure out 1 tablespoon of boiling water and stir again. Now add the rest of the flour mixture and another tablespoon of boiling water and stir just until smooth. Take care not to overmix. Fold in the chocolate chunks and the cherries.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pans, about 3/4 of the way.

Bake for 26 to 28 minutes. The tops should be puffy and firm. Stick a steak knife into the center of the loaf to check for doneness. A little bit of wetness is okay since it could be from a chocolate chunk or a cherry, but the knife should come out mostly dry.

Let cool for 10 minutes, then invert pan and place loaves on a cooling rack to cool some of the way. It’s yummy when still a bit warm, with the chocolate chunks oozy and melty. Wrap extra loaves in plastic wrap to keep from drying out. If not using within a day, refrigerate wrapped loaves.

February 7, 2012

Sunflower Mac

Serves 4
Time: 30 minutes (not including sunflower seed soaking time)

Sunny Mac

The most important people in my life are my recipe testers. Luckily, my sister and mom are included in their numbers, so all of my bases are covered.

Recipe testers are why my cookbooks work. Before a recipe gets to you, it has already been tested by a bunch of people, all over the world. They all have different levels of experience, from beginner cooks to lifelong kitchophiles. Some live in rural areas and harvest their own kale, while others lug huge bushels home from the farmer’s market on the subway. And there’s a happy medium in between.

But not only do testers test my recipes, they also give me inspiration. I can ask if there’s anything I’m missing, anything they’re craving, or just any ingredients they need to use up. It’s a great way to get ideas!

And over the years, I’ve learned many of their quirks, likes, loves and allergies. One of my most favoritest testers who has been there with me from the very beginning is Jess Sconed. I can’t say enough about her amazingness! I mean, not just as a recipe tester but as a friend and as a person. She is always creating something, always making the vegan community a better, more awesome, and more fun place. She started Vegan Iron Chef and is one of the organizers of Vida Vegan Con. She has like 20 blogs, but you might know her from Get Sconed, where she’s been blogging for ever. This recipe, created in her honor, is totally fitting because she’s a lot like a sunflower. One with dyed black pigtails and purple nail polish, but a sunflower all the same! Just a glowing ray of tofu light.

I know how she feels about raw onions and cilantro (not too good), and so I often come up with recipes keeping that in mind. And recently Jess has developed a tree nut allergy! I can’t imagine a worse fate right now, what with the cashew craze and my out of control almond butter lust. Knowing how much she loves vegan macs, I wanted to experiment with a sauce that I knew Jess would love, using ingredients that would be good for her, too. And so I pulled out the sunflower seeds.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Was this going to taste very 70s health-foody? I mean, it’s sunflower seeds. Our grandparents put them on their oatmeal. Would they even blend well? Cashews slurp up water and get tender and ready to puree. Sunflower kernels seem so hard and unwelcoming. I had my doubts, to be sure.

But all those doubt washed away as I poured the perfectly creamy sauce over the little macaronis in a positively cheddary orange waterfall. Sunflower seeds have a mellow nutty quality that fit right into a cheezy sauce. The backdrop of garlic and onion, with a hint of vegetable sweetness from carrots, and the rich toastiness from the sunflowers had me at the first creamy forkful. Bottom line: I really dug it! And from now on, I’ll have a canister of sunflower seeds standing proudly beside the cashews in my cupboard. Thanks for the inspiration, Jess!

I love to serve my mac with some steamed kale, so here was my plate.

Sunny Mac

The mac is under there somewhere! Steamed broccoli would be a good choice, as well. PS If you’d like to see all the testing that Jess did for Veganomicon, you can check out her post here.

8 oz macaroni pasta (I used whole wheat, use brown rice pasta to make it gluten-free)

1 cup unroasted sunflower seed kernels, soaked (see directions)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons organic cornstarch
1/4 cup nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice                                                              
Sweet paprika for sprinkling                                                        

Place sunflower seeds in a bowl and submerge in water. Let soak for about 2 hours and up to overnight. Drain well.

Boil a pot of salted water for your pasta.

Preheat a sauce pot over medium heat. Saute carrots and onions in oil with a pinch of salt for about 10 minutes, until onions are translucent and carrots are slightly softened. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds or so, then remove from heat.

Place the carrots and onions in a blender or food processor. Add vegetable broth, corn starch, nutritional yeast, tomato paste and sunflower seeds. Blend until very smooth. This could take up to 5 minutes depending on the power of your machine, so give your blender  motor a break every minute or so and test the sauce for smoothness. It should be very smooth, with only a slight graininess.

If your water is boiling, prepare the pasta according to package directions.

In the meantime, transfer the sauce back to the sauce pot. Turn the heat up to medium and let cook, stirring very often, until thickened. This should take about 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and taste for salt and seasoning.

The pasta should be done while the sauce is thickening, so drain and place back in the pot you cooked it in. Set aside.

When sauce is thick, pour most of it over the pasta, reserving some to pour over individual servings. Mix it up, and serve with extra sauce and paprika for sprinkling.

February 2, 2012

Quarter Pounder Beet Burger

Makes 4 big burgers
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes || Active time: 30 minutes

Beet Burger

You know the song, two all-beet patties, special sauce, lettuce, “cheeze”…har har.

Well, everyone loves burgers and this is a fine, upstanding, burger-citizen made with some of my favorite ingredients. Brown rice, lentils and beets! They all combine to form the perfect storm of vegan burgerness.

It’s not that they taste exactly like hamburgers or anything, but they do taste exactly like awesome veggie burgers. Rice provides awesome texture, to give you a substantial bite. Lentils are my go-to ground meat so they were a natural addition. And beets are the veggie burger hotness right now! I’ve tried beet burgers at many a restaurant, and I’ve been itching to come up with my own recipe. They give the burger an intense (vaguely disturbing) meat-like appearance, but they also add a lot of flavor, earthy and slightly sweet. Just something that takes your VB to the next level.

Beet Burgers

I like to make these burgers BIG. Ya’ know, dinner sized. In reading the Wikipedia about the history of the Quarter Pounder (or Royale With Cheese, for you Pulp Fiction fans), the inventor of the burger says he “felt there was a void in our menu vis-à-vis the adult who wanted a higher ratio of beet to bun.” OK, he said meat not beet, but whatever. And I have to agree. There’s a certain satisfaction to eating your way around the burger before digging in to a full-on bun bite.

To make these more fast-foody, top with shredded lettuce, sliced dill pickles, finely diced onion and ketchup. I would add a layer of avocado instead of a vegan cheese, but that’s just me. They really don’t even need it.

One very important part of this recipe is the cooking method. You want to get the burger charred. Not burnt, but charred, which really just means, uh, burnt only in some places. The best way to achieve this is with a very hot cast iron pan. Other pans may react different to high heat, and may not give you that perfect char. So if you’re not using a cast iron pan, the next best thing would be to transfer them to a baking pan after cooking, brush with oil and stick them under the broiler for a few minutes.

Recipe notes: If you’d like to make these gluten-free, just use gluten-free breadcrumbs – ground up gluten-free pretzels would be ideal. And if you’d like to bake them instead, do so at 375 F, 8 to 10 minutes each side, then stick under the broiler to brown them. If you’d like to use a different nut butter, I would recommend cashew or sunbutter. I think PB will be too strong, but who knows? I use a food processor to make these happen quickly, so you’ll have to do some finagling if you don’t have one. And one last tip: I keep a package of frozen brown rice handy at all times. It’s perfect for occasions like this when you just need a little bit for an ingredient.

And don’t forget the fries! Garlic Curry Fries are perfect with these. OK, it’s burgertime!

Beet Burgers

1 1/4 cups cooked, cooled brown rice (see recipe notes above)
1 cup cooked brown or green lentils, cooled, drained well
1 cup shredded beets
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon thyme, rubbed between your fingers
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel (or finely crushed fennel seed)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons very finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons smooth almond butter
1/2 cup very fine breadcrumbs

Olive oil for the pan

Peel beets and shred with the shredder attachment of your food processor, then set aside. Change the attachment to a metal blade. Pulse the brown rice, shredded beets and lentils about 15 to 20 times, until the mixture comes together, but still has texture. It should look a lot like ground meat:

Ground beet

Now transfer to a mixing bowl and add all the remaining ingredients. Use your hands to mix very well. Everything should be well incorporated, so get in there and take your time, it could take a minute or two.

Place the mixture in the fridge for a half hour to chill.

Preheat a cast iron pan over medium-high. Now form the patties. Each patty will be a heaping 1/2 cup of mixture. To get perfectly shaped patties, use a 3 1/2 inch cookie cutter or ring mold (I have pics of how to do it here.) Otherwise, just shape them into burgers with your hands.

Pour a very thin layer of oil into the pan and cook patties for about 12 minutes, flipping occasionally. Do two at a time if you’re pan isn’t big enough. Drizzle in a little more oil or use a bottle of organic cooking spray as needed. Burgers should be charred at the edges and heated through.

Serve immediately. But they taste pretty great heated up as well, so if you want to cook them in advance, refrigerate, then gently heat in the pan later on, then that is cool, too.

February 1, 2012

Baked Garlic Curry Fries

Serves 4
Time: 45 minutes

Curry Fries

There’s a falafel joint down the street from me that makes these amazing curry fries and you can smell them from a block away. They are so tantalizing, but baked fries are sooo much healthier and totally quench my curry fry craving.

These baked fries do take a bit of work. You need to parboil them, plunge them into ice water and then bake. But I wouldn’t post this recipe if it weren’t totally worth it! It’s everything a fry should be; a creamy interior while crispy on the outside. And it’s one of those things that, if you do it once, the next time it won’t be such a big deal and the time after that even less so. Looking over the directions I’m surprised at how much work it looks like when in reality it is so easy!

The type of curry powder you use is important. I use the Penzey’s sweet curry blend. It’s fairly mild with a little kick, and not bitter like some curry powders can be. Oh, and expect yellow garlic fingers for a few hours because you have to handle the curry powder with your hands. Welcome to my world.

Curry fries

PS If you just want plain old baked fries, skip the curry step. Just drizzle on the olive oil and salt and you’re good to go! You can also use chili powder or Cajun spice or any spice blend you’re totally in love with.

Oh and also, don’t use sweet potatoes or yams here. They’re much too soft and will turn to mush if parboiled. I find that simply baking sweet potato fries works well. This method is just for russet potatoes.

1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes
2 tablespoons mild curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Microplaned garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil

Organic cooking spray

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In the meantime, you’ll prep everything else and preheat oven to 425 F.

You want “steak fry” slices. So slice them about 1/4 inch thick and 3/4 inch wide.

Now prep your workspace. Fill a big bowl with ice water. Lay a kitchen towel on the counter and line it with paper towels. You’ll be plunging the fries into the ice water after boiling, and then placing them on the towel to blot dry.

Once the water is boiling, add the potatoes and cook for 3 minutes, no longer than that or they will get mushy so put on a timer if you need to. Now drain the potatoes and immediately plunge them into the ice bath to stop them from further cooking.

Once completely cool, place potatoes in a single layer on the towel to drain. Blot the tops with a paper towel as well, so that they’re mostly dry. A little moisture is necessary, though, to get the coating to stick. You just don’t want a puddle.

Pour the ice water out of the bowl and wipe it dry. Scoop the curry powder into the bowl and mix in the salt. Now use a microplane grater to grate about a tablespoon of garlic into the bowl (just eyeball it.) Alternatively, you can finely mince the garlic until it’s almost a paste. Drizzle in the oil and mix with a fork.

We’re in the home stretch now! Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Toss a handful of potato slices into the curry powder and remove each one, rubbing in the curry powder. Do this in about 4 batches, being careful not to get huge chunks of curry on any one potato. It should be evenly distributed amongst the fries.

Place fries in a single layer, spray with a little extra cooking spray, bake for 8 to 12 minutes on each side until golden brown and tender inside. If you’d like extra browning, place under the broiler for a few minutes, keeping a close eye. Serve hot!