August 4, 2011

Chilled Golden Beet & Ginger Soup

Serves 8

Chilled Golden Beet Soup

I’m going to stick up for conversations about the weather. I like them. I don’t mind listening to your humidity report, in fact I find it fascinating. Sunshowers, hail, tornadoes, and even the not-so-extreme like “Omigod it was really hot today.” I don’t see the big deal or why weather got such a bad reputation. After all, it dictates our lives. And it really really dictates our food.

From practical things, like how the finicky spring weather affects our gardens, to the emotional things, like how rainy days make you crave soup or a sweltering day has you revving up the blender for smoothies. And that’s what makes this soup at first so…confusing.

I’ve never really gone in for cold soups. Even gazpacho has to get me on a really good day in order for me to enjoy it. But a few elements came together that had me eating a chilled soup and loving it. For one, the beets. I picked them up at the farmer’s market and kind of neglected them. I knew I would roast them, but ugh, turning on the oven! So I decided to roast them at night when it was cooler; they could work away like elves in the kitchen, while I watched my reality TV. Slow roasting them at a moderate temperature didn’t raise the heat in the house too much, and the fact that I didn’t have to check on them very often helped too.

Once they were done it was too late to eat, so I put them in the fridge and planned to slice them up for salads during the week. But who eats that many beet salads? Soup made much more sense.

But it was too hot for a soup! And yet, I was craving one of my favorite combos: coconut/lime/ginger/root veggie. And so I said fork it. And I’m glad I did because now I’ve gotten to have two of my favorite things – a gingery root veg soup and a long-ass conversation about the weather. Plus, I discovered a new love…chilled soup!

This soup is smooth and velvetty is just as refreshing as a run through your neighbor’s sprinklers on a hot summer day. Although beets don’t usually make you think “summer,” they are in season right now, and the tropical flavors just make sense. Golden beets taste like the old reliable red beet went out dancing with a butternut squash way past curfew. It’s got that great earthy backdrop, but a tangy sweetness is the first taste. I like to top it off with a few dots of Sriracha.

2 lbs yellow beets, trimmed and scrubbed
1 15 oz can lite coconut milk
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
1 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon agave or pure maple syrup (optional)

For garnish:
Thinly sliced scallions

The hardest part of this recipe is roasting the beets, and that’s not even hard, it just takes a while. Look for beets that are somewhere between the size of a golfball and a tennis ball, so that they roast quickly and evenly.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Wrap the scrubbed beets individually in tin foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about an hour, turning once about halfway through. Beets are ready when very easily pierced with a steak knife.

Let them cool (still in the tinfoil) for about an hour.  They’ll keep softening as they cool, and that is good! Place in the fridge to cool completely.

Once cool, unwrap the beets, slide off the peel, and place in a blender or food processor. Add the coconut milk, lime juice and salt and puree until relatively smooth.

Preheat a small pan over medium-low heat, and saute the ginger and garlic for no more than a minute, being careful not to burn. Add 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth to deglaze the pan, and turn off the heat.

Transfer the garlic/ginger/veg broth mixture to the food processor, and puree until very smooth and velvetty. Taste for salt and seasonings, and add a tiny bit of agave or maple syrup if you’d like it a tad sweeter.

Place in the fridge (while still in the blender) and chill for at least an hour. It should be cold all the way through. If it’s too thick, add up to another 1/2 cup vegetable broth and blend again.

Serve topped with scallions and dotted with Sriracha.

August 2, 2011

Romesco Pizza With Caramelized Onions & Squash

Makes 2 large pies

Since I’m living right in the middle of the country, and right off i80, I become a rest stop for weary, traveling vegans. This weekend, some friends on their way from Pennsylvania to Portland stopped by, bearing gifts from a farmer’s market all the way in Madison, Wisconsin. I had just enough notice to conjure up a couple of pizzas, using some of the fresh produce they gifted me. The grill had run out of gas, so it was an indoor affair, but no one complained.

When it comes to pizza, I’ll make the occasional soy cheese pie, but what I’m really down with, what puts me in that state of eye-rolling bliss that only pizza can, is if you make mine cheeseless.

Now, “cheeseless” does have this dull sounding quality to it, since instead of focusing on what it has, we’re describing what it doesn’t. But even without cheese, I still like a richness to my pie. Sure, I enjoy a simple slice doused in a good tomato sauce and topped with veggies, but the more decadent Brooklyn girl and pizza-lover in me wants to have some fun, especially when I’ve got company. And so I make the base of the pizza thick and rich. It’s sort of reverse of what a traditional NYC pie would be, which is a light sauce topped with rich cheese.

There are so many different bases you can use. A creamy pesto, or a cashew-based alfredo, but here I went with romesco. Romesco is a Spanish sauce, made of roasted red peppers and toasted almonds,  with flavors that are at once deep and roasty but still fresh and light.

My visitors brought along some beautiful yellow squash that I knew exactly how to use since I’d been ogling a pizza on the cover of Vegetarian Times in June, which had pretty ribbons of zucchini that looked as light and graceful as petals. I took that idea and used the yellow squash, and while mine didn’t come out quite as flowy, I love the thin veil of vegetableness that you bite through to get to the lush spread underneath. I also added caramelized onions, for another burst of sweet richness.

But there are a million possibilities with this sauce. Something as simple as fresh basil would even make a great topping, but you can pile on heartier items, like roasted mushrooms, tempeh bacon, toasted pine nuts, breaded eggplant…the world is your pizza.

I used a store-bought whole grain crust from Whole Foods, but feel free to use your favorite double pizza crust recipe. Maybe the Pizza Dough from Vegan with a Vengeance if you’ve got that book.

The recipe looks really long, but I’m telling you how to caramelize onions and roast red peppers, so if you’ve got those two things down already, just skip over those parts.

You’ll need:
2 balls of pizza dough, for 2 large pizzas
Olive oil for brushing

For the caramelized onions:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large yellow onions
big pinch salt

For the sauce:
1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
4 red bell roasted peppers (you can also drained, jarred roasted red peppers)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teasoon salt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon agave nectar

For the squash:
1 large yellow squash, sliced into paper thin ribbons (with a mandoline or knife)

To make the caramelized onions:
The basic idea here is that you sweat the onions, which means you’ll be gently cooking them covered over low heat, and a lot of the cooking will be done from the steam as the water is released. You’re coaxing the sweetness out of them and locking it in. It looks like a lot of onion, and it is, but everything will cook down to manageable proportions, I promise. If you’ve never tasted caramelized onions, you might be surprised that an onion is even capable of this deep, sweet complexity, and with only two ingredients.

Preheat a heavy bottomed, preferably cast iron, skillet over low heat. Add the oil and the onions and toss the onions to coat. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, leaving a little gap for steam to escape. Stir occasionally, every 5 minutes or so. Onions should turn a nice mellow amber, but not burn, although a couple of darker spots are fine.

Remove the cover and turn the heat up just a bit, to a medium setting. Stir often for 10 more minutes. Onions should become a darker amber, and some of the moisture should evaporate.  Transfer to a bowl until ready to use.

To make the romesco:
If your red peppers aren’t already roasted, then do it now. Just place them on a rimmed baking sheet, into a 425 F oven, and turn occasionally. They’re ready when they’re blackened and collapsed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove them from oven and immediately place in a paper bag. This will steam the skin off as they cool. Place in the fridge and once cool, remove from bag, peel off skin and remove seeds.

Now toast the almonds. Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat. Spread the almonds out in a single layer and toast frequently until fragrant and honey brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer almonds to a food processor. Now we’ll prepare the rest of the sauce.

In the same pan over medium high heat, saute onions in olive oil for 5 to 7 minutes with a pinch of salt, until lightly browned. Add garlic, several dashes fresh black pepper, dried marjoram and salt, and saute for 30 seconds more, then turn off the heat.

Now pulse the almonds in the food processor until they’re a finely ground powder. Add the roasted red peppers, the onion mixture and the red wine vinegar and agave nectar. Puree until fairly smooth. Taste for salt, and set aside until ready to use.

To assemble pizza:
Preheat oven to 500 F.

This post is getting really long, so it won’t be a treatise on how to perfectly roll out a pizza crust. But I’ll just say, use a lightly floured, cold surface and I’m just fine with using a rolling pin.

Roll dough out onto a large, lightly greased pizza pan. Spread a cup or so of romesco sauce onto the pizza. Place squash ribbons artfully over the sauce and drizzle with a little olive oil. Also, brush the crust with olive oil.

Place pizza on the bottom of the oven (yes, right on the bottom, no rack required) preferably on a pizza stone, but it’s ok if you don’t have one. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until crust is golden. Remove from oven, top with splotches of caramelized onion, sprinkle on some fresh black pepper if you like, slice and serve. Then prepare your next pizza the same way!

July 26, 2011

Cucumber Avocado Tea Sandwiches With Dill & Mint

Serves 4 to 6
Time: 30 minutes || Active time: 20 minutes

Tea Sandwiches

For the new season, I’ve begun a tradition called True Blood Mondays. While the point was to hang out with friends and cook food inspired by the TV show, it’s just too hot to make a vegan human heart pot pie. So tea sandwiches will have to do! And, as someone on Twitter pointed out, you could definitely see Sookie Stackhouse serving these at a party.

But whether or not you’re serving fangbangers, tea sandwiches are fun to mess around with and fill with whatever you fancy. I like to take classic sandwiches and pair them down into tea size – for instance, mini po boys, banh mis, and eggplant parm. But these are my take on tradition: cream cheese and cucumber tea sandwiches. Avocado ditches its guacamole trappings and instead, is infused with lemon, fresh dill and mint. The end result is a nod to the old foil-wrapped cream cheese brick, but a creamy, tangy, silky experience that is all its own.

For my money, white bread is a must, especially if you can get it fresh from a bakery. It provides a bright but neutral backdrop that let’s all the subtle flavors shine through. Layer the avocado spread with cucumber sliced as thin as you can get it, then remove the crusts (sneak a few into your mouth), load up your prettiest vintage plates, and you’re in tea sandwich business.

Oh, and you can’t have tea sandwiches without tea! I recommend Lady Grey. The hints of citrus are the perfect complement to fresh herbs.

Tip: Avocado browns very quickly, so prepare the filling as close to serving time as you can. If you do need it to sit around for awhile, place in a container along with the pits from the avocado, and squirt on a little extra lemon juice. Then place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the mixture. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. But even with this method, I don’t recommend letting it sit around for more than a few hours.

For the spread:
2 ripe avocados, kept cold in the fridge
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
2 tablespoon fresh chopped dill

To serve:
12 slices white bread
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced

First prepare the spread. Remove the pit from the avocados, and scoop into a food processor along with the lemon juice and salt. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides ith a rubber spatula as necessary. Add the cucumber and pulse until cucumber is finely chopped. Add the mint and dill and pulse again so combine. You just want them well incorporated into the mid, not pureed.

Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes or so to let the flavors marry, and then taste for salt and seasonings.

To assemble:
Arrange the sliced of bread on the counter. Spread the avocado mixture onto all 12 slices. Add a single layer of cucumber on 6 of the slices. Now close each sandwich. Use a steak knife to cut off the crusts. With a gentle touch (so as not to squish the filling out too much), cut each sandwich into 4 equal pieces, either squares or triangles. Serve topped with extra herbs, or lettuce. In this pic, I topped them with pea shoots.

July 19, 2011

Portland Porch Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4
Time: 30 minutes || Active time: 20 minutes

Portland Porch Lettuce Wraps
I could call these White Bean, Nectarine and Asparagus Lettuce Wraps With Edamame Pesto, but I’m afraid you’d fall asleep reading that!

Sometimes location just guides your hand in the kitchen. In the Northeast, I gravitate towards root vegetables, in California I sneak avocado into absolutely everything, and when I’m in the Pacific Northwest, a tiny fairy with stretched earlobes and full sleeves whispers in my ear, “Put some fruit in that.”

I’m like “Wha?! Fruit on my pizza? Fruit in my sausages? Fruit in my beans?” And the fairy is like “Yes, yes and yes!” And I’m like “What are you listening to?” (because she has an iPod shuffle on) and she’s like, “Nothing, you’ve never heard of it.” Then she brushes her black and white bangs out of her eyes.

And so, here I am, fresh from my Portland trip, back in high summer Omaha. I’ve discarded the hoodie for 100 degree weather and cars that honk at cyclists, and I’m putting fruit in everything. Even my beans!

But let me tell you, that little hipster foodie fairy knows what the hell she’s talking about. Fruit doesn’t have to be overpowering and in your face. You can coax the sweetness and flavor into your dish, so that it’s working with the savoriness, not against it. Here, nectarine adds tart, juicy bites, cooked gently enough to work its summery flavor into the sauciness of everything, but not quite so much that it loses its integrity. Instead of being a curiosity, the fruit becomes a natural component, that brings an added dimension to what otherwise would just be sauteed asparagus and white beans with some other stuff. Quite yummy in its own right maybe, but probably not something that the hipster foodie fairy would ever bother with.

Some edamame pesto is the perfect accompaniment, because it’s full of body without being too heavy and oily. You’ll have plenty left over for use on other stuff, so that’s a bonus. And lettuce wraps are a natural, again, because they are nice and light, and their fresh grassiness lets the flavors of everything else shine through. Not to mention that I don’t feel like preparing rice or pasta in this heat!

Some tips for working with stone fruit in particular: Make sure to cut them tiny enough that they cook quickly and meld into the saute without being obtrusive. Pieces should be no larger than 1/4 inch. Fruit that is ever so slightly under-ripe works best because it holds its shape and is never too sweet. Be careful not to overcook. You want them warmed through and juicy, but not mushy, so taste as you go!

For the edamame pesto:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup packed basil leaves
Handful (1/4 cup or so) fresh cilantro
14 oz package shelled edamame, thawed
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Optional: 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

For the beans:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup thinly sliced shallots
4 cloves garlic, minced
Several dashes fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound of asparagus, sliced on a bias (3/4 inch pieces or so)
1 large nectarine, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (leave the skin on)
1 1/2 cups great northern beans, rinsed and drained (a 16 oz can)

To serve:
1 head of red bibb lettuce, or similar

Prepare the pesto:
Place garlic and basil in food processor and pulse a few times to get it chopped up. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until relatively smooth, scraping down the sides with a spatula to make sure you get everything. Add a little more vegetable broth if it seems too stiff. Set aside until ready to use.

Now prepare the beans:
Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium heat (cast iron is preferred.) Saute the shallots in olive oil and a pinch of salt until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and saute about 30 seconds more. Season with black pepper and salt. Add asparagus and toss to coat. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add nectarine, and cook for about 5 more minutes. The asparagus should be a bright Kermit green, and the nectarine should release some of it’s juices.

Add beans and toss to coat. Cook until they are warmed through, about 2 more minutes. Taste for salt. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes or so, so that the flavors can meld.

In the meantime, prepare red lettuce leaves. Just peel off the good big ones, rinse and dry them.

To assemble wraps:

Place a few leaves on each plate, spoon in some beans and plop on a nice big scoop of the pesto.

June 23, 2011

Grilled Peaches With Ginger Coconut Caramel

Serves 6 to 8

Grilled peaches…everyone is doing it! And why not, who doesn’t love a summer dessert that doesn’t involve turning the oven on?

When you grill a peach, or any fruit really, you want the exact right amount of caramelization. Too much and there’s bitterness, too little and it’s just kind of like eating a warm peach. Many recipes call for rubbing the peaches with sugar before grilling, but I think that can lead to grill misfires (pun not really intended, I just got lucky.) I like the method in this recipe because the peach is simply sprinkled with a little lemon juice and oil. Not adding sugar lessens the danger of over-caramelization, an epidemic that studies show affects 4 out of 5 peaches at every barbeque. Instead I rely on the caramel for sweetness, so let’s move on to that since it’s really the reason you’re here.

Ginger coconut caramel sauce! This sweet, fragrant, smooth and syrupy sauce is what elevates these grilled peaches to unforgettable. And even if you don’t have a candy thermometer, or if you’ve never made caramel before, this recipe is pretty easy and forgiving. Try to stop yourself from licking the spoon, just try it! No but seriously, I burned my tongue because I couldn’t wait, so you remember to let it cool a bit first! An added bonus is that you’ll probably have a little extra to drizzle over ice cream throughout the week.

I’d say that vegan vanilla ice cream is a total must here. I love good old So Delicious soy-based vanilla, but I think that a coconut based one would be a great choice, too.

Also, use plain white sugar here. The health-food sugars just don’t seem to work as well in caramels, I’m not sure why. So use beet sugar if you’re concerned about non-vegan filtration processes.

For the caramel:
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon cornstarch plus 1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated on a microplane
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the peaches:
6 to 8 ripe peaches
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons canola oil

And vanilla ice cream to serve

First make the caramel:

In a 2-quart pot, mix together sugar, water and maple syrup. Place over medium heat, and stir with a wisk until the sugar has dissolved.

Once dissolved, you don’t have to stir as much, but definitely keep a close eye so that it doesn’t burn, but do stir occasionally. It should be bubbly at the edges and start to turn a few shades darker. If it seems to be bubbling wildly, then lower the heat a bit.

Let cook this way for 15 minutes or so. In the meantime, mix the cornstarch with the tablespoon of water and slowly add the coconut milk, mixing with a fork to thoroughly incorporate the cornstarch.

Once the caramel turns a deep honey brown, slowly stream in the coconut milk, whisking constantly, then mix in the coconut oil, ginger and salt.

Cook for another 7 minutes or so, so that the cornstarch thickens the caramel a bit. Let cool a bit, but serve warm.

Prepare the Peaches:

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Remember to lightly grease it first so that the peaches don’t stick.

It’s easiest to slice the peaches width-wise (another way to think about it, is around the waist,) not stem to bottom. The pit will come out easier. Once sliced, hold each end of the peach and twist until it releases. Remove the pit, place peaches in a big bowl, and coat in oil and lemon juice. Use your hands to gently rub them and make sure they’re coated.

Grill each peach face down for about 7 minutes. Use a thin metal spatula to lift them from the grill. They should be tender and have awesome grill marks. Flip and grill for another 2 minutes or so, just to soften a bit more.

Serve immediately, with ice cream and drizzled with caramel.