Archive for the ‘Vegan’ Category

Stuffed Artichokes

February 14, 2010

Ingredients: artichoke, garlic, breadcrumbs, parmesan, olive oil, white wine, oregano, basil, black pepper, salt.

It seems to me that a majority of artichoke recipe titles end in “dip.” That’s a shame. The delicate flavor of a fresh artichoke should be lifted skyward and savored with simple, honest preparation — not drowned in cream cheese.

Then again, if your artichokes came from a can, it’s probably too late for glory. Now, I don’t hate tinned artichokes. They’re edible. The problem is how overpoweringly tart the preservative citric acid can be. I mean, it works out fine for dip and vinegary salads, but you aren’t really tasting artichoke.

Case in point: when I served one of these Italian-style stuffed artichokes to Senka, she remarked (with surprise) that it was nothing like what she expected from prior experience. Then she remarked that I should make them more often…

Working with fresh artichokes is definitely a challenge. The pointy outer leaves must be snipped, the stem must be peeled, and the thistly inedible innards must be scraped away with vigilance. [If you’re interested in doing this, I recommend studying one of the many illustrated guides online.] It’s also common practice to rub a wedge of lemon over shorn edges, which helps to prevent oxidization. With only 2 artichokes to stuff, I skipped this step.

For the stuffing, I mixed together a hearty pile of breadcrumbs, minced garlic, shredded parmesan cheese, Italian herbs, salt & pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil. I tucked the mixture into the gaps between leaves, plus down deep where the center “choke” was removed. I set my pair of artichokes in a shallow bath of white wine, covered the pan with foil (glass would probably have be better), and allowed for 30 minutes of oven braising. Toward the end, I removed the foil so as to crisp the breadcrumbs on top.

Stuffed artichokes are super fun to eat. You pluck one leaf at a time, then strip off the meaty underside with your teeth (and discard the rest). As you progress concentrically, each leaf yields increasingly more flesh. Exciting! Near the choke, however, the leaves become too thin to bother nibbling; at this point, you simply yank off the remainder and feast upon the delectable, dense heart. It’s not as gory as it sounds. In fact, I find it quite sensual, and rewarding after all that work.


Thanksgiving Dinner

December 4, 2009

Ingredients: vegetables, grains, Tofurky, love.

I don’t know what’s going on with my emotions these days, but sitting down to an American Thanksgiving Dinner in Kristianstad, Sweden actually brought tears to my eyes. I think I finally miss home. What I miss isn’t actually there anymore, and I’m okay with that, but it’s definitely time to begin cultivating some new family traditions.

I used to scoff at traditions. I never scoffed at handrails, or seatbelts for that matter. Seems hypocritical.

So, who wants a fat slice of Tofurky?!

My vegan centerpiece ended up absolutely delicious. I’d never had Tofurky before, but assumed it would be gummy and tasteless. It wasn’t. The texture was pleasantly dense and meaty, with a bit of realistic fibrousness. The flavor was certainly reminiscent of turkey, without trying too hard (as some vegan products do). I basted the Tofurky in a marinade of garlic, onion, thyme, sage, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and Maggi (which is a bit like a cross between soy and Worcestershire). I give this blend a thumbs up. The giblet gravy that came with the Tofurky was okay, but unnecessary.

My dinner mate does not care for mashed potatoes, so I prepared some fluffy chewy bulgur instead. I also served sweet corn, and creamed spinach.

Leftovers disappeared quickly, as expected. Can’t wait for next year!

Noodle Nest Stir-Fry

November 24, 2009

Ingredients: Chinese soup noodles, TVP (textured vegetable protein), broccoli, bean sprouts, onion, scallion, carrot, wood ear mushroom, soy sauce, corn starch, palm sugar, fermented tofu, garlic, ginger, dry vermouth, cooking oil, sesame oil, black pepper, salt.

Pondering what to do with a package of Chinese soup noodles led me to this dish, which was very tasty. It’s a fairly basic vegan stir-fry on top a “nest” of fried noodles.

I made the nests first. I boiled the noodles, chilled them in ice water to prevent them from mushing up, and dried them thoroughly in a salad spinner. Then I heated up plenty of cooking oil in my wok and fried individual portions of the noodles into solid masses. Although I wanted form birds’ nests, ultimately I had to settle for lily pads. They tasted great anyway.

For the stir-fry, I soaked some meaty TVP and seared it along with garlic, ginger, and onion. Then I tossed in sliced carrots, cubed broccoli stems and florets, and wood ear mushrooms (which I had rehydrated along with the TVP). Toward the end of cooking, I added fresh crunchy bean sprouts and sliced scallions. For the sauce, I mixed together water, soy sauce, corn starch, mashed fermented tofu, dry vermouth, palm sugar, sesame oil, and a bit of salt & pepper.

Combining the noodle nests with the stir-fry was a big hit. That transitional phase when something crispy gradually becomes saucy is such an amazing texture.

Kung Pao

August 16, 2009


Ingredients: red and green bell pepper, celery, water chestnut, peanut, scallion, dried whole chili, Szechuan peppercorn, peanut oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, Chingkiang vinegar, dry sherry, palm sugar, garlic, ginger.

Served with: white rice.

Kung Pao is another one of my favorite things to find when opening a Chinese takeout box. [I wrote about Shrimp & Snow Peas here.] The authentic Chinese version is nothing but chicken and peanuts, but I find that Kung Pao translates pretty well as a vegetarian dish. The peanuts go a long way toward filling out the savory flavor profile.

All things considered, Kung Pao is not hard to make at home. However, there are 3 essential ingredients that you might not have handy.

First on the list are Szechuan peppercorns. These wonderfully fragrant little berry husks are not actually peppercorns at all, but do perform a similar function. When enough Szechuan pepper is taken at once, the effect is an interesting numbing sensation.

The next essential ingredient is the dried whole chili pepper. A couple of these are toasted in the wok before the stir fry starts, so as to add a deep smoky heat to the oil. I love how this combines with the Szechuan pepper to create multi-layered spiciness.

Finally, Chinese “black vinegar” is a must for the sauce. I used a variant called Chinkiang. It’s an aged rice vinegar with a pungent, malty taste. I don’t use this for anything other than making Kung Pao, but it’s totally worthwhile, and I’m almost finished the bottle I got a year ago.

I began the Kung Pao by chopping and organizing all the vegetables I intended to use. To prep the wok sauce, I made a slurry of cornstarch and water in a plastic bowl, then added soy sauce, dry sherry, the Chinkiang vinegar, and a big spoonful of palm sugar (which balances out the tartness of all that vinegar). I also added some crushed garlic and ginger, though I like to strain those out after their flavors have been absorbed into the sauce.

I set the wok on high heat, then tossed in 4 or 5 whole chilies. When they began to blacken, I added peanut oil to the wok, then the bell peppers. After a few minutes of stir-frying, I added the celery, water chestnuts, and peanuts, plus a heaping teaspoon of ground Szechuan pepper. The air was thick with spicy smoke, enough to force a few tears out! I put a stop to that by finally adding the sauce mixture, which thickened up quickly, followed by the scallions (which should always be added last, because their flavor breaks down quickly with heat). I swirled in a bit of sesame oil as a finishing touch.

I ate the spicy, tangy Kung Pao with plain white rice, and ascended shortly thereafter to Heaven. It was so good.

Cabbage & Quinoa

July 27, 2009


Ingredients: cabbage, onion, garlic, mustard oil, Worcestershire sauce, Vegeta, dry vermouth, chili flakes.
Served with: quinoa.

Perhaps not the most colorful entrée, but man was this good. Cabbage is healthy, hearty, cheap, and quick to prepare as well. Fluffy quinoa on the side adds complete protein (all 8 essential amino acids) for a well-balanced and tasty vegetarian meal.

Preparation was simple. I sliced up half a head of cabbage and half an onion, then stir-fried them on high heat in some mustard oil. I like using mustard oil for bitter greens. It adds a nice peppery pungency to which the cabbage stands up admirably. Once the edges of the cabbage and onion began to brown, I added a clove of finely chopped garlic, a big pinch of Vegeta (all-purpose soup & seasoning mix), a splash of dry vermouth, and 3 or 4 shakes of Worcestershire sauce. The latter does contain anchovy, so omit that for a vegan dish.

To finish the cooking of the cabbage, I poured a half cup of water into the saucer and put the lid on quickly to steam it. After a few minutes, it was perfect: tender throughout, but still with a bit of crispness. I sprinkled a few chili flakes on top before serving.

Overcooking is what gives cabbage a bad reputation. Not only does it get mushy, it can also develop a nasty sulfur smell. In fact, the cabbage-eater is likely to develop a few smells of his or her own, if ya know what I mean. So if those are your objections to cabbage, fear not! Just cook it properly and enjoy.