June 16, 2011

Mushroom Barley Soup With Fresh Herbs

Serves 6 to 8
Time: 40 minutes || Active time: 15 minutes

Mushroom Barley Soup doesn’t have to be that staunch bowlful of murky stuff that your stepfather eats out of a can all winter. In fact, it can be downright right spring-like, with bright flavors from fresh herbs and springtime’s bounty of veggies.

I feel so lucky to be able to make soups like this happen with the herbs grown right in my yard. When people ask me how I could leave NYC, this is pretty much my answer (no not the hipster iPhone photos, but the subject matter!):

Sure, I could have found some way to garden in Brooklyn, but I lived there for most of my life and never managed to. I feel like if something leads me back home someday, I’ll be well equipped to put together some sort of garden, but growing up in the city it always felt like a dream that was way out of reach — something a much more put-together, much more resourceful or much richer person did.

Now that I’ve lived both in Oregon and Nebraska, I get it. The space helps for sure, but the pace helps, too. And I’ve come to find that there’s hardly anything more satisfying than grabbing a handful of thyme right off the porch, or gently pulling off a few crisp leaves of basil. The little things; tucking tomato plant branches safely into their cages, then smelling their grassy perfume all over your hands, eating a strawberry still warm from the sun, and even the failures! Watching your sunflowers go from seven to four and discovering the bunny who did it is still a pretty cool feeling.

And so this afternoon, when I got a yen for some mushroom barley soup (even though it’s June), I was able to use my garden instead of my spice rack. I am definitely a year-round soup girl, and can be found simmering some on even the hottest days of the year because sometimes gazpacho just won’t do.

If you don’t happen to have all of the herbs growing right outside, you can just use a mix of whatever you do have on hand. And if you had to choose just one herb, I’d probably make it dill. You can also bulk it up with beans – chickpeas or black-eyed peas are good contenders – or even some sauteed cubed tofu or tempeh. Tender greens, like spinach or watercress, would also make nice additions if you haven’t filled your greens quota for the day.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 vidalia onion, thinly sliced (a regular yellow onion is fine, too!)
8 oz cremini mushroom, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 average sized zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch thick half moons
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 average sized tomato, diced
3/4 cups uncooked pearled (quick cooking) barley
6 cups vegetable broth
Fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Herb mix:
3 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
3 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme

Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium heat. Saute the onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and zucchini, and cook until slightly softened and some of the moisture has been released, about 5 more minutes. Mix in the garlic and saute for a minute or so.

Add celery, tomato, barley, broth, pepper and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, add herbs, cover again and cook until barley is tender, about 10 minutes. Salt and season to taste. For best results, let it sit for at least 10 minutes uncovered so that the flavors can marry. Serve garnished with extra herbs.

June 9, 2011

Shiitake Banh Mi Salad

Serves 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes || Active time: 15 minutes

Banh Mi Salad

I came to the Banh Mi late in life (as I imagine most Brooklyn Jews did), but when I fell for it, I fell hard. The general idea, at least in the vegan versions I’ve tasted, is charred meat (seitan and tofu most often), super spicy creamy spread, pickled veggies to help cool you down, and the fresh cilantro and mint just make the whole thing. Since Banh Mi by definition calls for bread, this is a very deconstructed version, but you could easily reconstruct this baby and serve it on a good, chewy baguette, just leave out the lettuce. For me, right now it’s 100 degrees outside and I want salad!

I decided to use shiitakes as my meat, first of all because I’ve never seen anyone else do it but also because I wanted something relatively light but still entirely meaty. I love the hot/cold contrast in salads and this one doesn’t disappoint. The crisp, flavorful salad, coated in a simple spicy almond butter dressing, with the sweetness and acid from the pickled veggies, up against the charred, juicy, salty shiitakes stir up emotions in me that a salad probably shouldn’t.

If you’ve never pickled anything before, you’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment pickling your first veggies in this recipe! And don’t worry, it’s the simplest thing in the world, you just throw some vinegar and sugar in a bowl, stir, and toss in the veggies for an hour or so. Despite all of the components, the recipe is really, really easy.

For the pickled veggies:
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar  sugar
Pinch salt

1 scant cup thinly sliced radishes
1 scant cup thinly sliced cucumbers

For the dressing:
4 tablesoons almond butter
3 tablespoons pickling liquid
1 tablespoon sriracha (or more to taste)
1 to 2 tablespoons water
Pinch salt

For the shiitakes:
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 lb whole shiitakes, stems trimmed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

For the salad:
12 oz crisp salad greens (like romaine)
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup cilantro

Prepare the veggies:
Stir together the rice vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt. Toss in the radishes and cucumbers to coat. Let them rest for about an hour, giving them a stir with your hands every so often.

When the pickled veggies are done, prepare the dressing:
Mix together almond butter, 3 tablespoons of liquid from the pickles you just made, Siracha, 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt. Since almond butter varies from brand to brand, you may need a little more water to thin it out enough to coat the salad. You may also want to use more Sriracha, I actually used an extra teaspoon for a bit more spiciness, but it depends on your taste.

Prepare the shiitakes:
Preheat a large cast iron pan (or any heavy bottomed pan) over medium-high heat. Drizzle in the oil, then add the shiitakes. Cover and let the shiitakes cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. They should be softening up a bit and releasing moisture. Now uncover, and cook for 3 more minutes or so, until they are slightly browned in spots. Add the garlic and saute a minute more. Lastly, add the splash of soy sauce, and stir until it’s well incorporated.

Toss the greens with the dressing to coat. Plate the greens and top with the pickled veggies. Throw some herbs on top, and finish with the shiitakes. Serve immediately.

June 8, 2011

Kitty Benefit Wrap-Up and Thank-Yous

All the volunteers, some jumping more than others

I’ve always loved feeding people. Food is my conduit to pretty much everything. It’s how I relax, it’s when I do my best thinking, it’s how I tell someone I love them and it’s even how I earn my living. If I’m not wearing an oven mitt or wielding a pair of tongs, I start to get a little twitchy. I admit, I was a little nervous about how that would play out in my move to Omaha. I guess I pictured myself judiciously traveling to and from Whole Foods, working on recipes, talking to my cats, watching too much HBO On Demand, and maybe eating at the one vegetarian friendly restaurant in town (alone) every now and again. But I was only 50% right!

I’ve found so much energy here. Fun and creative people, a growing community of vegetarians and vegans, and good food (even a vegan restaurant that opened, and, uh, closed in the past year…but still.)

Doing Four Courses For Causes in Omaha took on a different meaning than meals I’ve served in New York City and Portland, where vegan pizza and local berries rained down from the skies (ouch!) When you’re serving in the shadows of feedlots and GMO corn, a plateful of local greens takes on a new significance. Knowing that this was the first seitan many people have eaten and the only vegan cream to ever pass through their lips, I knew I had to up my game.

But here’s the awesome thing: I didn’t have to do it alone! So many people came together to pull this event off. From the photography studio that generously lent us their space, to the restaurant owners who swooped in and chocolate dipped the strawberries and even cooked the risotto, it truly took a village! Or a moderately sized Midwestern city.

The organization we’re raising money for is pretty inspiring, too. Feline Friendz has a dedicated group of volunteers with a TNR (trap, neuter, release) mission, not to mention adoptions, fostering, and kitty health care. As a certified cat lady, this issue is so important to me, and with the rate that kittens are being bred, feral cat communities are ever expanding. But I do believe that with education and TNR we can bring an end to this in our lifetimes, and these volunteers are dedicating their lives to it. The absolute least I can do is put together a few strawberry shortcakes to help.

So thank you, thank you, thank you! To everyone who attended, to everyone who volunteered and to everyone reading this and making a difference where you live.

And more specifically, thank you: David Radler Studio for the space, Justin Limoges for the beautiful photos, all the volunteers: Tessa, What Cheer! (Denise, John Henry, Annora and Isaiah), Lauren and Dan, Greg, Jessica and Paul, dishwasher extraordinaire John McDevitt (Vegan Omaha) and Renate McDevitt for baking the cookies for the giftbags.

And of course, the local businesses! Blooms, for the precious flowers that graced each table. The small businesses that provided items for our giftbags, which helped to raise some extra cash: Greenstreets Cycles, Caffeine Dreams, Slowdown. Plus, the giftbag from the Omaha Chamber Of Commerce. And, finally, the groceries who provided discounts and donations: Jane’s Health Market and Hyvee.

Here are some photos from the evening (taken by Justin Limoges).

The tables are set.

Plating salads and skewers

Grilled Seitan In Raspberry Infused BBS Sauce, Caramelized Onion, Salad of Local Greens, Toasted Almonds and Raspberries


May 25, 2011

Sanctuary Dip

Makes 2 1/2 cups
Total time: 10 minutes || Active time: 10 minutes

A cool, creamy, tangy dip that’s calling out for a potato chip or baby carrot sacrifice. No BBQ is complete without ranch dip! But since ranches are sad places, and since I am throwing a BBQ tonight in honor of Gene Baur and Farm Sanctuary’s Just Eats tour, I’m calling it Sanctuary Dip. (Not to be confused with the Sanctuary Dressing in Appetite For Reduction.)

I typically like to use fresh ingredients, but I feel like ranch is calling out for dried herbs and pantry staples. There’s something very American about throwing everything into a blender and making dip happen. I use a one two punch of tofu and cashews for the creamy base.

1 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours, and drained
1 cup water
3 to 4 ounces extra firm tofu (1/4 of a typical package)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon agave
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable broth powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried dill

Place cashews, water, tofu, lemon juice and agave in the blender. Puree until very smooth, scraping down the sides with a spatula often to make sure you get everything. This can take up to 5 minutes depending on the strength of your blender.

Add the onion powder, veg broth powder, garlic powder and salt, and pulse to combine. Transfer mixture to a bowl and mix in the dried dill. Taste for salt and seasonings. Seal tightly and chill for at least an hour. The longer you let is chill, the firmer it will get.

Before serving, taste one last time and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve!

May 24, 2011

Smoky Maple Sausages

Makes 4 big sausages
Total time: 50 minutes || Active time: 15 minutes

There are so many amazing versions of these steamed sausages floating around, but one more couldn’t hurt! These are an excellent brunch sausage, perfect for slicing up alongside French Toast. They have a slightly sweet mapley taste, and when they sop up a little extra maple syrup, well that’s quite allright. I used both chickpea flour and nutritional yeast because I love that texture best, but you can use all nutritional yeast, or all chickpea flour. This recipe is anything but fussy. Here’s a PPK thread that has about a bazillion and one ideas for variations on the steamed sausage.

1/2 cup cooked pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke
2 cloves garlic, grated (with a microplane, or very finely minced)
1 1/4 cups vital wheat gluten
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Several dashes fresh black pepper

Before mixing your ingredients, get your steaming apparatus ready, and bring water to a full boil. The rest of the recipe comes together very quickly.

Have ready 4 sheets of tin foil. In a large bowl, mash the pinto beans until no whole ones are left. Throw all the other ingredients together in the order listed and mix with a fork. Divide dough into 4 even parts (an easy way to do this: split the dough in half and then into quarters). Place one part of dough into tin foil and mold into about a 5 inch log. Wrap dough in tin foil, like a tootsie roll. Don’t worry too much about shaping it, it will snap into shape while it’s steaming because this recipe is awesome.

Place wrapped sausages in steamer and steam for 40 minutes. That’s it! You can unwrap and enjoy immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. They’re really great sliced up and lightly sauteed, or grilled.