Warm Tomato Salad

It’s summer, and it’s time once again for tomatoes. Go out and snatch whatever variety you can, because right now, it’s all good.

My favorite tomato is the beefsteak tomato. It has a rich color and smooth texture with a really good bite to it. I don’t see them very often, so I usually settle for a nice plum or Roma tomato, but a regular old medium tomato, to me, is a very poor substitution. Medium tomatoes are probably the most common tomato in commercial use, being added to burgers and salads in most restaurants. The only thing I really like them for are sandwiches or to make Spanish rice. They lack flavor and tend to be rather pulpy as far as tomatoes go.

For this recipe, you can use whatever you have available, so long as you cut them into appropriate chunks or slices. I used golden tomatoes and grape tomatoes sliced in half, but you can do quarters (or smaller) of Roma tomatoes or 1cm slices of whatever else you have on hand.

Ingredients:

1 T Canola Oil

¼ Sweet or Vidalia Onion, sliced

2 cloves of fresh Garlic, roughly chopped

1 ½ cups of Tomatoes, sliced or chopped into bite sized pieces

Salt and Pepper to taste

Olive Oil (just a drizzle)

 

  1. Over low heat, heat a skillet large enough to comfortably spread the ingredients so they don’t overlap. The skillet I used was actually a bit too large, but the point here is that you do want some of that juice that the tomatoes will release to evaporate instead of making a soupy mess in the pan.
  2. Add your one tablespoon of Canola Oil (yes, just canola because you never NEVER put olive oil into a dry pan) and your sliced Onions and chopped Garlic. Sprinkle about a pinch of salt over them, as it will not only season, but help dry them a bit so they will caramelize a little faster. If you prefer crispy onions, just do the garlic, but do caramelize them just to bring out that more savory, smooth garlic flavor. Watch the garlic carefully, as it has a tendency to burn. If it burns, you may as well toss it out at this point and clean the pan because anything you cook in it town will taste like armpit. Yeah.
  3. When the garlic and onions are golden brown, add the tomatoes and season them with salt and pepper. Fresh cracked pepper really sings in this dish, so go for it. Turn the heat to medium and cook just for about a minute or two, tops.
  4. Turn the stove off and drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes. Toss them lightly or give them a gentle stir with a wooden spoon. The tomatoes will be fragile, so treat them gently
  5. Serve and enjoy them warm.

 

I find that I like the results I get from using cold tomatoes. The skins crisp a little while the insides remain a bit more firm. This dish makes it an excellent accompaniment to a heartier dish, as the acidity of the tomatoes brightens the palate, so try it with a fried, bean or tempeh dish, or to the side of a little vegan macaroni & cheese.

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Cashew Cheese

Cheese is one of the hardest things to turn down once you’ve decided you’re not going to eat it, or at least it was for me. I get it. Also, have you had tapioca cheese before? I’m not so sure it’s even food. If I had to eat tapioca cheese every day, I might just lick a hot spoon and say goodbye to my taste buds altogether. Oh, cheese. You are so unkind to my body. You’re like the no good boyfriend my parents wouldn’t let me date and yet I couldn’t stay away from. Luckily, I respect myself too much to go through the gastrointestinal distress, so if I can outgrow Rico Suave over there, you’re certainly getting the boot. There is one thing I love more than cheese, and by a longshot: myself. Oh, and cashews. Oh, Baby Jesus…how good are cashews? I’m pretty sure they’re what angels eat in Heaven. So, I found a recipe online for some very easy cashew cheese. I was like, “No way, it’s just that easy?” and boldvegan.com was like, “Yes, child, it’s that stupidly easy.” Ok, so some minor differences: For one, I bought a juicer earlier this year (and I’m pretty sure this is real love we’re talking about) so instead of a food processor, I used a masticating juicer. That sounds very dirty, but look it up, ya nastay. You can follow the original recipe if you don’t have a masticating juicer, and it will render a slightly less smooth and maybe softer spread. 1 cup unsalted Cashews 2 tsp Lemon Juice ¼ tsp Table Salt Pinch of freshly ground Black Pepper I soaked the Cashews in 3 cups of water (as per the recipe) for 1 ½ hours. The cashews had expanded and looked paler in color. I drained the water from them, and fed them straight into the juicer without any sort of cap (the thing that shapes whatever comes out of the mill) and let them fall into a bowl. Lemon, salt and pepper were all folded unceremoniously into the resulting nut butter with a rubber spatula, and then I ran all of it through the juicer again, but this time with the little cap on that gives shape to capellini pasta. Placing the cap on it this time ensured that no large bits managed to make it through, though it came out so creamy the first time that I doubt it was really anything to worry about. I then shaped it into a ball, flattened it out, and rolled down the edges to give it that old timey cheese shape we’ve all come to know and love. As for taste, it is so delicious. If you want to bring a cheeseball to the party that people will actually willingly eat, (and not like those first time grazers that fall for that almond covered nonsense, like poor little deer going for the hunter’s corn only to learn the bitter taste of betrayal,) you should make all future cheeseballs out of cashew cheese. Seriously, people will not be able to keep their hands off your balls. They will salivate at the sight of them, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to savor the creamy delicacy. Put it away, I’m still talking about cashew cheese. This makes an excellent substitute for cream cheese, and I can’t even believe I just wrote that. You can also add garlic or tomato paste to punch up the flavor and make it into more of a spread, and it will blow hummus right out of the water. Add a spoonful to thicken up a soup. Ooh! I just thought of my next recipe! It’s a very versatile little paste, so experiment and let us know what you came up with in the comments below. The original recipe can be found at http://boldvegan.com/cashew-cheese-easy-recipe/

Curried Rice and Peas

Tired of the same old legumes? Want to try something a little exotic; maybe something a little tropical and slightly unexpected? Well, here’s a little Caribbean vacay for your vegan tongue: Curried Rice and Peas.

So, what exactly are pigeon peas? They are kind of like giant lentils with the meatier texture of a green pea. They come in different colors, and you can usually find them in that one aisle of your grocery store that carries exotic goods. You can buy them in a can, or dry, and boil them as you would a bean—soak them for several hours and cook them through on medium heat for about an hour.

For this recipe I have used Goya Canned Pigeon Peas and Jasmine Rice because I like the floral fragrance it lends to the curry, but feel free to substitute long grain brown rice or any kind of long grain rice you have or buy dry peas and prepare them ahead. If you decide to use dry peas and cook them yourself, make extra and freeze them in their broth to cut down on prep time in the future. Their texture will be well preserved, and you may season them any way that you like.

 

2 cups Rice

4 cups Water

1 can Pigeon Peas

1 cup Coconut Milk

1 cup diced Carrots

½ cup diced Onions

1 large Potato, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 whole cloves Garlic

1 tsp fine grain Salt (iodized table salt or sea salt may be used, but if using Kosher, use a pinch more)

¼ t finely ground Black Pepper

1 Tbl Mild Curry Powder

 

A good size to dice the carrots to is about 1cm sq. , but you can dice them a little larger if you want them crispier or smaller if you like them soft. The potatoes shouldn’t be diced too small or too large so that they will cook thorough along with the rice, so try cutting the potato into quarters lengthwise, then chopping the long strips about 1cm apart.

 

If you have a Rice Cooker: Put everything into the rice cooker and hit “cook.” Make sure that the rice looks tender and most of the liquid is absorbed when it finishes cooking, or you can set it again for another few minutes until it does. This dish will be just a little bit wetter than white rice, so think risotto when looking for the right texture.

If you don’t have a rice cooker: Use a lidded stock pot that can hold approximately 8-10 cups or a deep skillet with the same qualities. Place everything into the vessel at the same time and cover it with the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Bring it to a rolling boil, then set it to medium heat and allow everything to cook together for about 10 minutes or longer if you see that the rice still looks raw. If your vessel starts to boil over, lower the heat or try lifting the lid just a little more to release more steam.

This is pretty much a one dish meal than can comfortably serve about 4 very hungry people, and the leftovers will freeze well, in my experience, for up to 1 month.

Throwback Thursday, Part Two

Last week, I talked about how I was going to give the whole vegan thing another shot and went over some reasons why; today, I’m going to tell you what prompted me to blog again.

I’ve been watching this cooking show on KLRU. The host seems like a very nice lady, and I admire her commitment to her vegetarian ways, her dedication to being eco friendly, her jazzy spirit, and the simple fact that she is doing what she in her power has to bring interesting vegetarian dishes to the public. On the other hand, and if you watch her show you’ll know what I mean, she seems to cause a lot of confusion about how exactly to prepare vegetarian food. Not only that, but her recipes are generally inaccessible to the average or beginner cook. I’m going to use the word, “pretentious,” here, because, well, it’s very frankly the appropriate word to use. I’m sure her dishes are delicious, and they certainly look it, but even to me it is very clear that she is more of a self taught cook with no professional training. Because of her improvised technical skills, it is very likely that someone at home trying to recreate her meals will not get quite the same result.

I’m not at all saying that a good home cook has to be proper and professional, because that’s not at all true, but I will say that showing some proper or time saving technique is something that appeals to both the beginner and the seasoned cook. How pissed are you when you figure out you’ve been doing things the hard way this whole damn time? I mean, use a cooling rack and a cookie sheet to glaze a pastry instead of tearing all these little pieces of parchment paper to put under it and then pull away and toss in the trash, right? Beat it with a rolling pin all Julia-style to start it out instead of muscling through the first few turns of a cold pie crust! But instead of saying, “Oh, hey! Neat stuff I learned today on KLRU!” I find myself just up in a tizzy about how fucking less it would take, and how much neater it would look to use a scoop or measuring spoon to pour some cupcake batter. Well, that’s one half of my frustration, but the other part is the ingredients.

Yes, I’m very lucky indeed to live in a metropolitan city with so much diversity and so many exotic ingredients available to me. I’m fortunate to have all these things at my disposal, and a little extra cash to spend on them. Unfortunately, the world isn’t everyone’s oyster free vegan substitute. Ingredients like sprouted bread, nut cheese, meat free breakfast sausage and rare tropical fruits aren’t available or affordable to everyone. What seems like a convenience for some is pretentious snobbery to others, and it can make the whole lifestyle unappealing or unsustainable for so many. I’m here to pass on what I know to the many who dislike the taste of dairy substitutes, or can’t afford to spend more on store bought meatless roasts than they do on meat; I’m here to guide the beginner who’s worried about how to boil beans and the novice who is bored to tears with tofu; I’m giving hope to the one vegan at the potluck whose feelings are hurt because no one has touched their dish; I’m lending a hand to the meal planner on a budget who worries their family isn’t eating right or getting enough protein. I don’t do it because I have to; no one said I have to. I do it because I want to. I want this to be accessible to everyone who wants this information for all the varied and equally wonderful reasons they want it.

I also do it because creating inspires other, and inspiring others pushes me to create, and creating makes me happy. Is it a hard thing to understand that helping others do something good for themselves can be so fulfilling? Because if it is, there is something very broken inside of you and I would recommend you see someone about that but I doubt that it would ever help because you’re probably dead inside anyway so you may as well sign up to become Megan Fox’s personal assistant since you have no soul for her to crush and will probably get along swimmingly as she destroys what is left of her face with her obsession for plastic surgery. Seriously, I couldn’t have said, “Go fuck yourself,” any more clearly.

Estrellitas (Star Soup)

1 package Estrellitas pasta (substitutions below)

½ c Textured Vegetable Protein

1 8 oz can petite diced tomatoes or 8oz diced Roma Tomatoes

½ tsp ground Cumin

½ tsp Ground Black Pepper

4 Cloves Garlic

¼ medium White Onion

1 Jalapeño (optional)

1 sprig Cilantro

2 T Canola Oil

4 Cups Water

¾ tsp Sea Salt

¼ tsp Dry Oregano

 

If you can’t find these little star-shaped pasta, look for fideo, alphabet pasta, melon seed pasta or those little circle pasta that look like the pasta maker got a little impatient with the elbow macaroni and wound up cutting them way too small. Oh, you can also use elbow macaroni!

Roughly chop the Onions and Garlic cloves and set them aside. For optimal flavor, chop each garlic clove into about 4 or 5 pieces and dice the onions to about the same size. As it will burn quickly, avoid chopping any small bits of garlic.

Add oil to a 9in sauce pan on medium heat. Add the pasta to the oil and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it is uniformly toasted and golden.

Now, Garlic, Onion, Tomatoes Jalapeño can join them in the pot, along with water, seasonings and TVP. The purpose of the jalapeños is not to make the dish spicy, but to add complexity to the flavor, so leave it whole and with the stem on. You can also substitute it for a piece of green bell pepper, but seeing as how green bell peppers make me want to puke, I would just as soon clip some toenails right into the pot. It’s my life. Don’t judge me.

Allow this to cook for 10 minutes or until pasta looks tender and the TVP is thoroughly saturated before adding the Cilantro. Then, remove the pot from heat, cover, and allow it to set for 10 minutes before serving.

You can leave the jalapeño aside if, like mine, your tongue quivers in fear of its burning spice. As you can see this dish is very easy, and all it needs to make me feel like I’m having lunch at my Grandma’s is the looming terror of a cheap foam flip flop swung in anger. I’m sure you can imagine why this was a very real threat for me.

Black Bean Soup

This recipe goes along with a shout out to my friend, Monica, who just took a huge leap that I hope will bring her joy and satisfaction for all the years of her life.

 

Black Bean Soup

 

1c Dry Black Beans

2c Vegetable Broth

2 c Water

1/2c diced Onion

4 cloves of Garlic

1/2c diced Carrot

1/2c diced Celery

1t Sea Salt

1/2t Black Pepper

1/4 tsp Powdered Cumin

2T Ketchup

1 sprig Cilantro (for garnish)

 

If you weren’t aware, I should tell you that like most beans, Black Beans contain a phytotoxin which can make you ill or in the case of Kidney Beans, kill you, when beans are improperly prepared. Don’t panic, because I will instruct you on how to safely prepare a scrumptious soup made from these healthy and nutritious beans.

  1. Soak the beans in 4 cups of water for 6-8 hours. This will allow the water to penetrate the skins, engorge the beans, and soften the starches so that they will cook thoroughly.
  2. Drain the water and add the beans to a large pot. Add Water, Broth, Onion, and Garlic to the pot and cover the beans. Cook them on high heat until the pot is nearly boiling over, then reduce the heat to half and cook for fifty minutes before continuing.
  3. Remove the lid and add the Carrots and Celery, Salt, Pepper and Cumin. Cook for another ten minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add the Ketchup (you can get organic ketchup at many stores these days, and yes, ketchup is good for something other than fries) then cook for another five minutes or so.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and you may either use a hand-blender to liquefy everything, or cool the soup off and blend the contents of the pot in a traditional blender. Either way, you will blend until everything is liquefied, and then run the soup through a fine colander or sieve into a clean pot (you can rinse out the one you started with) to remove all the bean skins and solid bits. The removal of the skins will make the beans easier to digest. I know that will allow you to breathe easier and sleep soundly. Pun intended.
  6. Cook for another ten minutes to reduce slightly. The starched should be well developed and by now, you should have a smooth and creamy black bean soup.
  7. Garnish with cilantro before serving. You can also drizzle a little vegan sour cream over the top and swirl it with a toothpick for an elegant presentation, or sprinkle it with a bit of vegan cheese.

If you don’t have ketchup, you can use a small amount of tomato sauce and about 1/2 tsp of apple cider vinegar. The vinegar in the ketchup is what contrasts with the savory garlic and onion to brighten up the flavor of the dish, so cutting it out altogether is not recommended.

Throwback Thursday

Well, hello once again dear readers. If you’ve been keeping track, it’s been quite a looong time since I’ve made a post. A lot has happened since I made my last post, and many things and people have come into and left my life; some permanently.

You may be wondering what prompted me to make a post after such a long stint of inactivity, and I’ll explain as simply as I can, but many things factored into my return. I have sinned. I have not been a practicing vegan for over a year. To put it simply, I was too overworked to keep making two different meals almost every day. I was tired of eating wraps and grilled vegetables and nastyass canned fruits every time I went out to eat with others; having to explain and defend my dietary choices; paying extra for food I didn’t enjoy because the cook seems to think that vegans don’t have tastebuds. I caved. It happens. But what many of you must know, especially those who have committed to this lifestyle for years, is that the same reasons that led you to make these changes will lead you back again. Assuming that you did not elect this diet arbitrarily, those reasons for which you chose this diet will haunt you, like the face of your true self obscured by the mask you wear to blend in. If you read my first ever post, I list many factors in favor of a vegan diet. Some of them are very personal, and some of them are just ambitious daydreams like trying to save the planet, but all of them are valid, and many of them are very close to my heart. Sorry to be vague, but there are some new and more personal reasons for me to adopt once more a vegan (or at least, semi-vegan) lifestyle. As for coming back to the blog, I’ll leave that for part two next Thursday.

Envious of My Juicy Peaches?

How to Choose Fruit When Shopping:

Yeah, we’re doing this. Too often friends or even strangers at the grocery store approach me on the subject of choosing fruit. The problem: “Every time I pick up fruit at the grocery store, it’s never sweet enough…it’s mushy, grainy, dry, etc… Why are my melons never as luscious as yours?” Well, genetics have something to do with it. My parents were always good at picking fruit. But here are a few tips for you folks out there who just can’t seem to get the knack, and even you tried and true produce veterans who feel like your skills allow room for improvement.

Alright troops, in this course, we are going to cover 5 essential factors for picking fruit in order of importance: Density, Fragrance, Coloring, Season, Local Selection and then we’ll finish it off with a little self help guide I like to call, “You’re Just Not That into Figs.”

Having grown up minding pecan and peach trees, I learned a few things about fruit bearing trees, their loves, triumphs, and life cycles. When fruit is ready to be picked, that tree will actually ask you to pick its fruit. It has lots of ways of attracting potential carriers, because it does essentially want you to take its fruit in exchange for spreading its seeds as far and wide as you travel.

1.) Density: Ripe fruit will hang low, all the better for you to pick it. It will become dense with water, and then you know you have a juicy fruit. Fruit that is picked too early will not have received enough water from its mama and never will. This applies to nearly everything, including leafy greens and root vegetables. Water rich fruits and veggies are juicy. Choosing a dense fruit will safeguard you from pulpy citrus, sandy textured apples and pears, gummy peaches and other stone fruit, and bland berries. Size them up and compare weight. It’s ok to do this among produce. It won’t make them self-conscious. You cannot wait out or fix fruit that is not dense enough to begin with. Imagine a container the same size as your fruit filled filled about 90% of the way with water. Is that about what it weighs? If yes, then the fruit you’re holding is dense enough.

2.) Fragrance: though harder to distinguish when the fruit has been waxed, all fruits give off some sort of fragrance. If your fruit is not very dense, you may notice that the smell is equally lacking. Smell is meant to attract carriers, and fruit that is ripe will literally smell so good that if you are even fairly hungry, you should want to bite a sufficiently fragrant fruit as soon as you hold it up to your nose. If you don’t feel compelled to eat it, put it back.

3.) Coloring: because primates like “pretty things,” nature has outsmarted us once more with the hypnotizing effect of lush color. Highly saturated reds, yellows, purples and oranges tell us which fruits we want to eat, so while there are a scant few exceptions, just take this one for face value. If however, you happen upon a fruit that is a: dense, b: fragrant, but c: lacks color, here is a little trick to ensure maximum deliciousness…put it in a brown paper bag. In anywhere from several hours to a couple of days, you should have a ripe, juicy, delicious piece of fruit. If density and fragrance are exceptional, it means you have stumbled across a fruit that was only slightly on the green side, and waiting it out should pay off well.

4.) Season: think about the season it is. If you’re trying to pick a peach in late January, chances are, it’s going to suck. How do you know it’s in season? Well, that varies from fruit to fruit, so I’m not going to get into it. Do your own leg work, you lazy jerk. I will, however, give you a hint: if it’s on sale, and it looks good, buy it. If it’s a really really good sale, it means they’re getting so much of this fruit while it’s in season that they have a lot to pick from and are having trouble finding room for it all. You would be a fool not to load up. A FOOL!

5.) Think Local: While we get much of our fruit from other countries, it will inevitably mean these two things: 1. Shipping will have made it more expensive, 2. It was picked very green in order to accommodate packing and shipping time before rot sets in or bruising occurs. Ultimately, it is pricier fruit for a lesser quality. You may have been on vacation to a tropical paradise, gone to Chile and eaten red plums or savored avocados in the verdant south of Mexico, and said, “Da-yum. This fruit is like a million bajillion times better than the fruit we get at home! Whycome? All OUR fruit comes from HERE? They keeping the good fruit to themselves? 😡 Damn sneaks!” Well, while we do get our fruit from the exact same region and maybe even same farm/orchard as that delish fruit you had on vacay, shipping and the laws of space and time dictate that they simply cannot wait for fruit to ripen before sending it off. The fruit you ate locally most likely had a chance to fulfill its maximum potential for deliciosity, (and was probably A LOT cheaper) whereas the expensive fruit your grocer ordered in from the same damn tree fell way short of expectation. And that’s another reason why you should SHOP LOCALLY. Oh, also, it’s like good for the environment and both global and local economy or some shit.

Now that you have been schooled on picking good fruit, I have but one last bit of advice. When you see that fruit that you know is bad, just walk away. You may really want a peach, but you find only peaches that are light, odorless, pale, bruised, overpriced, and you know they couldn’t possibly be in season…there is only one thing you should do: walk away. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. As hard as it may be to accept, as badly as you want it, you’re better off settling for a fruit in season or even buying frozen fruit, than taking home that questionable harvest eying you from behind the mango crate. When the time is right, and you find that special fruit, you’ll be glad that you waited, and it will just taste all the sweeter.

Berry Compote

Berry Compote

1/2 c Blueberries

1c Strawberries

1/2 c sugar

1 tsp Orange Liquer

¼ c water

Combine Sugar with Water and Orange Liquor in a small sauce pan. Heat and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. You don’t have to buy the most expensive liquor you can find or pay an arm and a leg for Grand Marnier. I found a comparable (and less expensive) substitute in Torres Orange Liquor. The average person will not be able to tell the difference, so don’t bother springing the extra moola on a brand name.

Wash your berries, and if you are not using organic strawberries (you should…they are extremely porous as they have their seeds on the outside) you definitely need to use some sort of fruit&veggie wash! The good news is that the juice of half a lime dissolved into 4 oz of water is just about as good as any commercial veggie wash and effective at removing pesticides from the surface of produce. Hooray for limes!

Lop the green stuff off the berries and quarter them (lengthwise) to keep the beautiful natural shape of the berries bite sized, but mostly intact. Chill your fruit, chill your syrup, and about 10-20 minutes before serving them. This will allow the natural sugars of the fruits to macerate with the syrup and bring out their natural sweetness. It also works well for fruit that is a little greener than you like, but you couldn’t wait anymore because baby has to have it now.

If you like, you can add non-dairy whipped topping like Cool Whip. Yes, it’s dairy free! Made from oils. Good news for vegans, bad news for veal farms. Suck it, cattle concentration camp!

Baked Apples

Baked Apples

4 Apples (I like Gala)

½ c White Sugar

1 stick or ½-1 t Cinnamon

¼ c Water

 

Peel and remove the core from 4 medium to large apples. Galas work well for this because they are very sweet and remain fairly crisp after baking

Next, in a sauce pan combine one large stick of cinnamon (or ½ -1 tsp of ground cinnamon) with ½ cup white sugar and ¼ cup water. Heat and stir until the sugar seems to have completely dissolved. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F

Roll the apples into the sugar mixture and place them in a 1-2 inch deep casserole or glass baking pan. Choose the smallest pan you have that will accommodate them. Then, pour the remaining syrup over them.

Bake them at 5 minute intervals, spooning the syrup from the bottom of the pan over your apples each time. Do this for a total of 20 minutes.

This dish is not only a delicious fat free alternative to apple pie, it is a sneaky way of tricking people into eating fruit. Bwa ha ha ha! Also, apples are very high in soluble, dietary fiber so they keep you feeling full and satisfied after a modest meal.  You can get fancy and add a tsp of Whiskey to the syrup before pouring it over the apples, or you can drizzle a caramel sauce or candied pecans (or both) over them for a more elegant dessert. Shit, sprinkle some gold flakes on that bitch. You fancy now.