December 5, 2011

Bestest Pesto

Makes 2 cups
Time: 20 minutes

I guess the sauce that speaks to my heart and runs through my veins more than anything is pesto. I love it on sandwiches, in soups, on scrambled tofu and stir-fries. I would eat it in a house and I would eat it with a mouse. I would even eat it with Václav Klaus (the president of the Czech Republic, duh.)

And I don’t discriminate with ingredients for my pesto, either. So long as it’s fresh and green, it’s fair game. I like to use all manner of nuts- pistachios, cashews, brazil nuts, no one comes out alive.

But when I want to feel my Brooklyn roots, I go classic: basil, pine nuts, olive oil. Still, even those simple flavors aren’t safe from my whims. This is the recipe for exactly the pesto that I crave — classic ingredients with a few minor adjustments.

Half the pinenuts are replaced with walnuts; a combo which started out as a cost saving measure, but now I just prefer the flavor and texture. Of course I always toast ‘em first to bring out the flavor. I keep it mostly basil, but a little bit of cilantro brightens things up, and some thyme because I’m Isa and I love thyme.

A splash of lemon heightens the flavors and provides some tang, and just a little nooch gives some craeminess and cheeziness. I replace half of the oil in a traditional pesto with some water, and it’s none the worse for it. I actually prefer it this way because it’s not greasy.

Bestest Pesto

The pesto makes enough for a pound of pasta. You can, of course, serve it a million ways, but since this is Comfort Food Month on my blog, I’m going to share my favorite!

I’ve spoken about my love for Louise Hagler’s Tofu Cookery before. And so of course her Tofu Balls have a place on my ideal pasta comfort plate. I make sure to add an extra huge pinch of oregano to them to provide a little herbal flavor contrast with the pesto. And another love is roasted cauliflower. When roasted, cauliflower develops an amazingly complex and nutty flavor that reminds me a little of a campfire. Maybe a campfire on prescription painkillers. It’s really really good. To roast cauliflower: 425 F oven, big pieces of cauli tossed with a little olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper. Large rimmed baking sheet, roast for about 20 minutes, flipping once. Voila!

And so, yeah, there it is, my soul bared in the form of a pesto pasta. And I even plan on doing a post about homemade pasta soon if you feel like going totally overboard this winter.

1/4 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Fresh black pepper (to finish)

First toast the nuts. I will let you in on my secret hybrid nut toasting method. Preheat a large heavy bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-low heat. First toast the walnuts for about 5 minutes, tossing them often. Then add the pinenuts for an additional 5. They should turn a few shades darker and smell warm and toasty.

Transfer toasted nuts to a food processor. Add the garlic and pulse everything into fine crumbs. Add the basil, cilantro, thyme, salt, nutritional yeast and water and puree until relatively smooth, scraping down the sides at least once to make sure you get everything. Stream in the olive oil and blend until well combined. Last but not least, blend in the lemon juice.

I serve it over warm pasta (don’t rinse, it needs the starch to stick), and finish it off with some fresh black pepper.

November 30, 2011

Cashew Queso

Makes 2 cups
Time: 45 minutes

Cashew Queso

If ooey, gooey, cheeziness is your idea of comfort, I’ve got just what the doctor ordered. Yes, the doctor ordered nachos. Don’t ask me! It’s some kind of experimental alternative medicine or something.

Whether you take your queso with a lot of crunch over nachos, or prefer it in a doughy burrito, this recipe will satisfy all of your needs for creamy, melty, oozy, spicy, tangy, cheezy bliss. The cashew base makes it rich and smooth, and cooking it with a little starch brings the texture even closer to melted cheese, especially as it sets. Miso adds a lot of umami depth and satisfying saltiness. And of course there’s the usual queso suspects: onion, pepper, garlic and jalapeno. Some cumin, ancho powder and lemon seal the deal.

But the magic doesn’t end there! Not to get all infomercial on you, but this queso can also double as a grilled cheese filling. Let it cool completely, then spread over bread and toast each side in a pan with a little olive oil. Two comfort foods for the price of one. And one last thing ladies and gentlemen, it’s is completely gluten-free. Order now.

Recipe notes:
~If you prefer a chunky queso, double the vegetable ingredients (except for the garlic) and set half aside before the pureeing step.
~This reheats really well! Gently reheat in a small pot, drizzling in a little water and whisking often until it returns to its original creamy state.
~The nutritional yeast is totally optional, I love it both with and without. It adds a little extra cheezy kick, but if you aren’t a fan or don’t have any on hand, the queso will not suffer for it.
~White miso is my favorite, but since it’s such a small quantity, any miso will do here.

1 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours or overnight
2 cups veg broth
2 tablespoons white miso (see recipe note)
2 teaspoons cornstarch or arrowroot

1 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced (keeps seeds if you want more heat)
3 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ancho pepper (or any mild ground red chili)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Drain the cashews. In a blender or food processor, puree them with vegetable broth, miso and cornstarch until very smooth. This could take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on your device. Rub between your fingers to test; slight graininess is okay, but try to get it as smooth as possible.

In the meantime, preheat a 4 quart pot over medium heat. Saute onion, red pepper, and jalapeno in oil with a pinch of salt until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute about a minute more.

Transfer vegetables to the blender where the cashew mixture is. Add cumin, ancho, nutritional yeast and salt. Blend again until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender with a spatula to make sure you get everything.

Transfer mixture back to the pot. Whisking often, turn heat up to medium until the queso comes to a slow rolling boil. Lower heat so that it doesn’t burn and cook for about 20 minutes. Whisk often and check to see that it’s thickening, if it’s not, then turn the heat up a bit. It should become nicely thickened but velvetty and pourable.

Stir in the lemon juice at the end. If the queso seems too thick, drizzle in a little water and whisk to desired consistency. Taste for salt, spices and lemon juice and adjust as you like.

Serve hot!

November 28, 2011

Dilly Stew With Rosemary Dumplings

Serves 6 to 8
Time: 1 hour

Dilly Stew With Roasemary Dumplings

I’m dedicating this month to comfort food recipes to help get you (and me) through the winter. Try as I might to traipse around in a hoodie all year round, I have to come to terms with the reality: winter is here. And that means lots of time warming up indoors. Maybe someday I’ll have a fireplace, but for now the heat of the stove gets me through.

So let’s kick things off with a comfort classic! You can think of it as a play on vegan chicken and dumplings or just take it for what it is — a soul-satisfying, thick and hearty stew with chunky potatoes and carrot, creamy white beans, all laced through and through with dilly yumminess. The dumplings soak up all that goodness on the outside, while staying deliciously doughy in the center.

The funnest part is spooning in the squashy squishy dumpling dough only to reveal beautifully firm and plump dumplings when you lift the lid minutes later. Makes you feel like a kitchen god. Or maybe that’s the cabin fever setting in.

Recipe Notes:
~If your baby carrots are the plump kind, then slice them in half on a diagonal. If they’re thin, don’t bother. And if you’d like to use adult-sized carrots, peel and slice them in 1/4 inch diagonal pieces.

~I use a Le Creuset Dutch oven for this. You don’t need to use cast iron, but the wider the pot the better, because you need lots of surface area to make the roux and cook the biscuits later. If you don’t have a wide pot, then using a large, deep pan will work, too.

For the stew:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 medium sized sweet onion (like Vidalia or Walla Walla), quartered and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable broth, at room temperature
2 stalks celery, tops removed, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 pounds potato, in 3/4 inch chunks (peel if they’re russets)
1 cup baby carrots (see note)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Fresh black pepper
1 15 oz can navy beans, rinsed and drained (about 1 1/2 cups)

For the dumplings:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoons dried rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or soy)
2 tablespoons olive oil

First we’re going to make a roux, but it has a little less fat than a traditional roux, which means it doesn’t get as goopy. If you’d like a more traditional roux, just add extra oil.

Preheat a large, heavy bottom pot over medium-low heat.

Add the oil and sprinkle in the flour. Use a wooden spatula to toss the flour in the oil, and stir pretty consistently for 3 to 4 minutes, until the flour is clumpy and toasty.

Add the onion and salt, and toss to coat the onions completely in the flour mixture. As the onions release moisture, they will coat more and more. Cook this way for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and stir for 30 more seconds or so.

Stream in the vegetable broth, whisking constantly to prevent clumping. Add the celery, potatoes, carrot, dill, thyme, paprika and black pepper, then turn the heat up and cover to bring to a boil. Keep a close eye and stir often, so that it doesn’t clump or boil over.

Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stew is nicely thickened and the potatoes and carrots are tender.

In the meantime, prepare the dumplings.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the rosemary. Make a well in the center and add the milk and olive oil. Use a wooden spoon to mix together until a wet dough forms.

When the stew is ready, mix in the beans and plop dough right on top of the stew in spoonfuls. You should get about 14 dumplings. Cover the pot tightly and cook for about 14 more minutes. The dumplings should be nice and firm. Use your ladle to dunk them into the stew to coat.

Ladle stew into bowls, topped with dumplings. And serve!

November 23, 2011

Seitan Roast Stuffed With Shiitakes And Leeks

Serves 6 to 8
Active time: 1 hour || Total time: 2 hours

Seitan Roast

I know. I’m posting a roast recipe on the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving. I’m sure everyone already has their menus planned and I’m late to the party. But this roast almost drove me to the brink of madness Call of Cthulu style, so I had to defeat it! And defeat it I did.

Seitan Roast

After about 20 years and twice as many tries I’ve got a fabulous centerpiece stuffed roast that I’m proud to show off to the neighbors. Succulent seitan stuffed with herbed meaty shiitakes and leeks. The seitan is mixed with pureed pinto beans to give it great, juicy texture and even a hint of pink color. It’s really similar to my sausage recipes which I used as a base recipe. The stuffing is coated with bread crumbs, which keep it perfectly packed into the roast when you slice it, instead of falling out all over the place. It all comes together when baked in a familiar tinfoil wrapping.

I don’t know what took me so long to get it right. Maybe someday I’ll be ready to talk about it. But right now, let’s get roasting!

Seitan Roast

There are a few recipe notes before you begin:

~For best results, use a salty homemade vegetable broth. Salt is integral to the flavor of the seitan, so if your broth isn’t seasoned then add a teaspoon or so of salt to it.

~You’ll also want to spoon broth over the roast before serving, to keep it from being dry. Of course you’re going to be coating it in gravy, too. But the broth is a nice touch. If you’re slicing and serving, ladle on spoonfuls of broth on each individual slice, too. You can’t have too much juice, here!

~This roast reheats perfectly. Refrigerate in its wrapper for up to 3 days before hand. When ready to serve, preheat an oven to 350 F and cook for 20 minutes. This will dry it out a bit, so use the broth hints above for sure!

~Use a steak knife for the easiest slicing.

~I used storebought breadcrumbs but if you use homemade, use 3/4 cup.

~This makes enough for 6 hungry people. If it’s not Thanksgiving or another holiday, and people are not totally stuffing their faces, it serves at least 8.

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 oz shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced (rough ends removed)
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into thin half moons
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For the roast
3 cloves garlic
3/4 cup cooked pinto beans, rinsed and drained (fresh or canned)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed or finely chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed between your fingers
1 teaspoon dried sage, crushed between your fingers
Several dashes fresh black pepper

First prepare the filling:
Preheat a large pan, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms and leeks in oil until soft, about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, garlic and thyme. Cook for about 2 more minutes, stirring often.

Sprinkle in the breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Cook the mixture, stirring very often, until the breadcrumbs are toasty and the mixture is relatively dry. This should take about 5 minutes, and the breadcrumbs should turn a few shades darker.

Drizzle in the broth and lemon juice and toss to coat until moist. If it still seems dry drizzle in a little extra olive oil. Set aside until ready to use.

Prepare the roast:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a food processor, pulse the garlic until well chopped. Add the beans, broth, olive oil and soy sauce and puree until mostly smooth (a few pieces of bean are okay, but they should be no bigger than a pea.)

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, herbs and spices. Make a well in the center and add the bean mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts coming together to form a ball of dough. Knead until everything is well incorporated.

Now we’re going to roll out the seitan and form the roast. Place two pieces of tin foil (about 18 inches long) horizontally in front of you. The sheet further from you should overlap the closer sheet by about 6 inches. This way you have enough foil to wrap around the whole roast.

On a separate surface, use your hands or a rolling pin to flatten the seitan into a roughly 12 x 10 rectangle. If any pieces rip, don’t worry about it, just use a pinch of dough from the ends to repair any holes.

Place the filling in the lower 1/3 of the seitan rectangle, leaving about 2 inches of space at both ends. Make sure the filling is compact, use your hands to form it into a nice, tight bundle.

Now roll! Roll the bottom part of the seitan up and over the filling. Keep rolling until in it’s in a log shape. Now pinch together the seam and pinch together the sides to seal. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it will snap into shape when baking.

Place the roll in the center of the tinfoil and roll up like a tootsie roll, making sure the ends are tightly wrapped. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for an hour*. Rotate the roll every 20 minutes for even cooking.

* I may update the time in this recipe because I’ve gotten a few comments that said it took up to 90 minutes to cook completely! So for now I would say just do a test my poking the roll with tongs. It should feel very very firm. If it doesn’t, then bake further.

Remove from oven and let cool. Unwrap, slice and serve! (See recipe notes for keeping moist and reheating.)

November 16, 2011

Carefree Curry Burgers

Makes 6 burgers
Active time: 15 minutes || Total time: 2 hours (1 hour chill time, 30 min bake time)

Carefree Curry Burger

I simmer up a big old pot of curry at least once a week and when I get tired of eating my lunch out of a bowl, burgers to the rescue!

Leftover curry makes the perfect base for these Carefree Curry Burgers, and with the magic of a food processor they come together ridiculously easily. Brown rice adds some “chew” to the texture and chickpea flour gives it a crunchy exterior and toasty flavor. They’re baked, not fried, so that gives you some downtime and makes them even healthier. And if your curry is gluten-free then so are the burgers.

I have never had a burger fail using this formula. Chana Masala, Korma, eggplant curry, aloo saag…you get the picture! The key is that the curry has to have some chunky beans or vegetables. A smooth dahl won’t work because the mixture shouldn’t be soupy. So choose thick, jam-packed stew as your base and you can’t go wrong!

Actually, while we’re at it, here’s a little secret…almost any stew can be made into a burger following these parameters. Make a chili burger by replace the extra curry powder with chili powder. No matter what stew you’re turning into burgers, just adjust the flavorings to match the stew and you’re good to go.

You can totally make these burgers and simply serve with ketchup and pickles. If you’re feeling a little more fancy, you can fake a slaw and a chutney by drizzling some lime juice on both fresh chopped fruit and red cabbage. Then make a curried mayo for some extra kick by mixing a teapoon or two of curry powder into some vegan mayo.

2 cups cold leftover curry
1 cup cooked cold rice (brown basmati is great here)
1 cup chickpea flour, plus a little extra

Extra curry powder to taste
Salt to taste
Cooking spray

Options for serving:
Thinly sliced red cabbage, dressed with lime juice
Chopped mango or pineapple
Vegan mayo mixed with curry powder
Ketchup mixed with Sriracha hot sauce
Red onion
Fresh cilantro

Add the rice a food processor fit with a metal blade and pulse 5 or 6 times. Add the curry and pulse until no big chunks remain, although it shouldn’t not be completely smooth. Pea-sized chunks are okay.

Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the chickpea flour, a teaspoon or two of curry powder and a big pinch of salt. Mix well, using your hands as the mixture starts to come together.

The mixture should be mushy, not stiff. But if it seems soupy or very loose, add a little extra chickpea flour (by the tablespoon) until it holds together. Taste for salt and curry powder. Transfer mixture to the fridge and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.

Form the mixture into 6 patties (about 1/3 cup each) and place each on the baking sheet. Spray the tops with a bit of cooking spray. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes, then flip and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Burgers should be golden and firm to the touch.