My Vegetarian Kitchen

Stories of a vegetarian food snob in Northern California


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Vegan Banh Mi – A Top Contender for Best Sandwich

I’ve always been fascinated by the Banh Mi, but haven’t ever hand the chance to try it, as I always question whether it is really vegetarian friendly or not.  However, I had two opportunities in January on separate occasions to try it at a trustworthy place – the first was at a Google cafeteria, and the second was at a Whole Foods while vacationing in Boulder, Colorado.  Both sandwiches were so flavourful and delicious – I was determined to recreate them at home after my trip.

I started off by baking tofu that had been marinated in soy sauce and freshly grated ginger – I didn’t marinade it for very long, and then baked the thin slices in the oven at 350F for about 30 to 40 minutes.  You could easily skip this step by buying baked tofu at the store, which is one way to turn this into a quick meal.  However, I did all this on a relaxing Sunday, and it didn’t really feel like work.

I marinated the radishes and carrots in a sugar/vinegar mixture and allowed them to sit until I was ready to assemble the sandwiches – the pickled veggies are always my favourite part of the sandwich.

Once I was ready to build the sandwiches, I toasted the bread and then spread a generous layer of vegan mayo/sriracha mix onto all of the pieces – if you aren’t into vegan mayo, mixing some sriracha into hummus would also work well.

Toasted french baguettes with vegan sriracha mayo

I then assembled the sandwich with a layer of baked tofu, leaf lettuce, thinly sliced cucumbers, fresh mint and cilantro, the marinated veggies and sliced jalapeños.Assembled vegan banh mi

Because we had the sandwiches for dinner, I wanted it to be a heartier meal.  Serving pho with banh mi seemed like overkill with the carbs, so I opted to make a simple tamarind soup.  Its quite common to find tamarind paste at the grocery store these days.  I sautéed mushrooms, cabbage and onions and then added vegetable stock mixed with a small teaspoon of tamarind into the pot and brought it to a boil.  Simple and super easy!Tamarind Soup


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Homemade Falafels with a Little Help from Alton Brown

The huz loves falafel.  Really, really loves falafel.  So much so, that our daughter learned the word at 15 months. I don’t get as easily excited about falafel, but can appreciate one that is made well (ie. not dry and hanging around from 24 hours earlier).  I have tried to make falafels many times before, but in an attempt to make a healthy meal, have always opted for baking instead of frying.  Who am I kidding? This time, I decided to go big or go home.  (As a side note, Mark Bittman has a pretty decent baked falafel recipe – just don’t expect it to taste like your favourite takeout place).

I’ve always loved Alton Brown’s recipes, especially when he provides nerdy, scientific explanations.  That being said, his recipes don’t easily convert to vegetarian or vegan, since each ingredient in his recipes serve such a specific, scientific purpose.  However, if you find one of his recipes that are by default vegetarian, you’ve struck gold.  That was the case with his falafel recipe.  In my opinion, one of the most important steps was toasting the coriander and cumin seeds – it made the falafels so much more fragrant, and gave them a lovely earthiness.

As a vegetarian, a meat grinder isn’t something that is available in my kitchen, but I was able to use my food processor and get a great consistency.  Basically, I needed to make sure that I didn’t overprocess it, but at the same time, make sure the mixture would hold together when forming a ball. Once I had formed all the balls, I stored them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in my refrigerator. I kept them uncovered, but if you’re planning on preparing them in advance, I’d cover them with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out too much.
Vegan Falafels Before Frying

I also thought this would be a good time to try making my own pita at home – I wasn’t thrilled with the results, but this recipe has a lot of potential.  I think the problem was that I mixed in whole wheat flour into the recipe as well, and as a result, the pitas were not as soft as they could have been.  But you can’t beat the fresh taste of homemade pita, no matter how bad the recipe is.

I found a tip online that recommended rolling out your dough into a long log and cutting it into small rounds before rolling out the pita – this was a great shortcut and something to keep in mind!

Homemade Pita

I cooked the pita in our oven on a pizza stone – not sure if this made things any better than using a pan other than allowing the oven to stay extremely hot.Pita in the oven on a pizza stone

Last, but not least, I roasted potatoes with a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, rosemary and garlic – these potatoes tasted great with tzatziki. I poured the marinade over the potatoes and roasted at 400F for an hour.

Greek Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried chickpeas, sorted and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 4 small scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 quarts peanut oil (or your favourite oil for deep frying)
  1. Place the chickpeas in a medium bowl and cover with 2 inches of cold water. Soak overnight.
  2. Place the cumin and coriander seeds in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet and set over medium high heat. Cook, shaking the pan frequently, until the seeds give off an aroma and just begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder and process until finely ground. Set aside.
  3. Drain the chickpeas. Combine the soaked chickpeas, ground cumin and coriander, garlic and scallions, salt, black pepper, baking powder, cayenne pepper, and parsley leaves in your food processor.  Pulse until the mixture is fine enough to form falafels that will stick together.
  4. Scoop the mixture into 1 1/2 to 2-ounce portions using a 2-inch diameter disher. Place on a half sheet pan lined with parchment. Can be held hold at room temperature for up to 2 hours before frying, or covered in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven (or whatever you use for deep frying) over high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F. Adjust the heat to maintain temperature. Gently place the falafel, 1 at a time, into the hot oil. Fry 4 at a time until deep golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to a half sheet pan lined with a cooling rack and topped with a paper towel to drain. Repeat until all falafel have been cooked.


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Garlicky Dill Refrigerator Pickles

It has begun…summertime canning. I’ve been terrified of the canning process until now, which is why I have always opted to freeze my tomato sauce instead of canning it.  But I think it is time for me to overcome this fear.

I know refrigerator pickles aren’t considered real canning, but it is a good first step because it allows me to test out my pickle recipe before committing to a large quantity.  And the farmers market had such gorgeous pickling cukes a few weeks ago – I just couldn’t resist.

In order to overcome my fear of canning, I hit up the library and brought home a stack of canning books. After reading through them all from start to finish, I narrowed in on one particular recipe for pickles.  I headed over to my local Ace Hardware store (best place for canning supplies, in my opinion) and picked up a case of Ball canning jars (which are now available with BPA free seals).

I started off by boiling my quart jars – I soon learned that having proper canning tongs would have been super helpful (put that on my next shopping list!).  As they dried, I cut the pickling cukes into quarters lengthwise, and set my brine on the stove.  I stuffed the cucumbers, garlic, dill and other spices into the jars and then poured the hot brine over them.

Garlicky Dill PicklesIngredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup canning salt
  • 15 pickling cukes quartered lengthwise
  • 1 tsp of mustard seed
  • 3 to 4 sprigs fresh dill
  • 2 cloves of garlic for each jar
  • 1/2 jalapeño per jar, if desired
  1. Bring water, white vinegar, salt and mustard seeds to a boil – ensure all the salt is dissolved.
  2. Prepare the cucumbers, dill, garlic and jalapeño – place into boiled canning jars.
  3. Pour hot brine into jars, cover and leave the on the countertop for 24 hours.
  4. Place jars in refrigerator and wait at least 3 weeks – some would argue you should keep them in even longer (that’s the hard part!). Pickles will keep for at least 2 months.

 


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Vegan Cuts Subscription – Part Deux

May’s Vegan Cuts box arrived recently! How exciting! This month’s box attained awesomeness status just by having a pack of Hail Merry macaroons in it – they are so ridiculously addicting!

OK, enough with the exclamation marks…and on with the commentary…

  1. Beanfields Bean and Rice Chips – as the name may indicate, these chips are made of beans – and they have some fabulous flavours
  2. SuperEats Kale and Chia Chips – ok, I confess, I haven’t really jumped on the kale chip bandwagon…I’d rather eat my kale sautéed.
  3. Saffron Road Harissa Simmer Sauce - I’ve used a few of their other simmer sauces in the past – makes for a super quick dinner when the little one isn’t cooperating – a perfect pantry item.
  4. Barbara’s Snackimals Cereal – my favourite Barbara’s product is the Peanut Butter Puffins – but I’m willing to expand my horizons.
  5. Mario Pitted Black Olives – as someone who consumes olives from the jar on a regular basis, the accessibility provided by olives in a pouch is sheer genius
  6. Mary’s Gone Crackers – I’ve enjoyed these crackers, but they are definitely not an all-purpose cracker – I particularly enjoy them with hummus.  Also, my local Costco carries these in a large box – much more economical than any other store.
  7. Nature’s Bakery Lemon Fig Bar – this bar has potential and decent ingredients – just not sure how I feel about a lemon and fig combo
  8. Jiva Hot Chocolate Cubes – if I’m ever on the run, and there is no Starbucks in sight, I guess I could whip up on my own hot chocolate with one of these.  I’m more intrigued on just trying one of the cubes on their own.
  9. Meatless Select Fishless Tuna – this particular item makes me want to throw up in my mouth a bit.  I don’t know if I have it in me to even open the can. Perhaps I can give it out as a party favour?
  10. Hail Merry Macaroons – saving the best for last, these macaroons are golden…and our local Whole Foods is evil with their prominent display of them…I usually can’t resist.

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A Birthday Subscription to Vegan Cuts

A wise friend once said “Good friends bring good things”.  An even wiser friend got me a subscription to Vegan Cuts for my birthday this year! Woohoo! I’ve seen so many posts about the Vegan Cuts subscription, but never took the leap to actually sign up.  I’m looking forward to trying out all these goodies…they’re mine…all mine…

April’s box contained the following items:

  1. Simply Straws – a BPA-free glass drinking straw – looks like the perfect size for smoothies – will be interesting to see how long it takes for me to break this
  2. Nuttzo – nut butter made of seven nuts and seeds – this is probably a step up from Justin’s when it comes to healthy options
  3. Vigilant Eats – oat cereal with macs, vanilla, hemp and cacao – I’ll have to save this for a day when it isn’t 80F outside during breakfast (holy heatwave, California!)
  4. Nii Foods – almond butter bar with chocolate chips and seeds – my current bar of choice has been NuGo Organic; looking forward to changing it up
  5. Mediterranean Snacks – I used to buy these lentil chips regularly when I was being strict about a gluten free diet.
  6. Numi Organic Tea – this brand is one of my favourite (second to Two Leaves). The option of a savory vegetable based tea is intriguing.  In an attempt to improve my digestion, my acupuncturist once recommended started any raw meals with a hot soup – I’m sure this tea would serve a similar purpose.
  7. MCT Lean – I’m always wary of pea based protein powders – I have yet to find one that I can actually stomach (there’s something about the pasty aftertaste that I can’t handle, which is why I usually stick to a whey protein).  We’ll see how this one goes!
  8. Oatworks – this beverage intrigues me – why would anyone need to have their oatmeal in liquid form? Oh well, its a good thing to keep in the diaper bag for a quick snack in a pinch!

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Stuffed Delicata Squash – My New Favourite Wintertime Squash

I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of winter squashes through my CSA delivery, but most of them haven’t been approved by the huz. He usually eats anything I make, and rarely will complain when he is the guinea pig in my food experiments, but acorn squash is officially off the table. After the acorn squash episode, I was wary of trying any new squashes, but the large bin of delicata squash at Trader Joe’s was just calling my name a few months ago. Since then, I’ve picked some up multiple times.

One of the reasons I love this squash is that it is much easier to work with than butternut squash and cooks up quicker as well. It makes for a perfect post-work meal. I also prefer to keep the meal vegan – it keeps the meal fairly light and allows the flavours in the stuffing and the squash shine through.

The first couple of times I made the stuffed squash, I used up leftovers in the refrigerator to make the stuffing. Rice, beans, quinoa, tofu and any other veggies you have in the refrigerator work really well. If you plan in advance, making extra stuffing ingredients will make for a quicker dinner the next day. A few things to note: because the squash isn’t that large, it works best when the ingredients in the stuffing are chopped into small pieces; secondly, if you are using leftovers, I recommend adding something to the mix that will give the stuffing some moisture so it doesn’t dry out completely in the oven.

Tonight, I opted for stuffing the squash with potatoes, tofu and kale. It smells so good in the house right now – hopefully, we’ll be able to plant our own squash next winter and have a continuous supply of this wonderful vegetable.

Delicata Squash stuffed with kale, tofu and potatoes

Delicata Squash stuffed with kale, tofu and potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 medium delicata squash
  • 2 medium potatoes cut into small cubes
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 1 bunch kale, chopped finely
  • 1 block firm tofu, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • salt and pepper to taste (season generously since the squash will not be seasoned)
  1. Scrub squash to clean – cut in half lengthwise and removed seeds.
  2. Add oil to a pan to sauté potatoes, onions and celery. Gently stir until vegetables begin to soften.
  3. Add the kale into the veggie mix and season.
  4. Crumble the tofu into the pan and mix contents
  5. Once the tofu has dried up a bit from cooking, add the nutritional yeast and remove from heat.
  6. Stuff the prepared squash and place on a greased baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes at 400F or until squash is soft.


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Vegan Arugula and Dill Frittata (but I cheated and added feta)

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I picked up a bag of arugula from the farmers market this past weekend – it definitely isn’t salad weather around here. I was looking for ways to use arugula in a warm dish, and the two options that appealed to me the most were an arugula pesto or a frittata. We had just had pasta the other night, so I decided to go with the frittata.

I looked to Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan Brunch book for a recipe – all of the recipes in this book are idiot-proof in my opinion…and don’t leave you wanting for more as I sometimes find with many vegan recipe books. There is a swiss chard and dill recipe in the book, and I used the same basic idea she had (tofu and nutritional yeast) to make my own version that only required the use of my cast iron pan.

I started off by straining a block of tofu and leaving it out so it would give off as much liquid as possible. I then sautéed the veggies – garlic, jalapeños, shredded zucchini and arugula. I opted to shred the zucchini because I was then able to squeeze a lot of liquid out of it before adding it into my pan. While the veggies were cooking, I crumbled the tofu by hand in a bowl until it was smooth and seasoned it (I also added feta to the mix but this is optional).

Sauteed garlic, zucchini and arugula

Sauteed garlic, zucchini and arugula

Once my tofu mix was ready, I added it into the cast iron pan and mixed the tofu and veggies together. I then used a potato masher to spread and flatten the mix into the pan before I popped it in the oven for 25 minutes at 400F (I had already started roasting potatoes for a side dish while all of this was going on so they would be ready at the same time as the frittata).

Arugula and Dill Frittata baked in a cast iron pan

Arugula and Dill Frittata baked in a cast iron pan

I served the frittata with potatoes and avocado – I love having brunch for dinner, but this could easily be made the night before, left in the pan in the fridge and then baked in the morning for brunch.

Frittata served with avocado and roasted potatoes

Frittata served with avocado and roasted potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano, minced
  • 2 small zucchinis, shredded and liquid squeezed out
  • 3 cups arugula
  • 1 block tofu
  • 1 tsp brown mustard
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • generous handful of fresh dill, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crumbled feta (optional)
  1. Preheat over to 400F
  2. Drain tofu and set aside in a strainer.

  3. Saute garlic, jalapeños and zucchini in some oil in a cast iron pan until they have softened – add arugula to the mix. Turn the heat off in the pan once the arugula has wilted.
  4. While the veggies are cooking, squeeze out as much water as possible from the tofu and crumble by hand. Add the mustard, nutritional yeast, dill and salt and pepper to the mix.
  5. Add the tofu mixture into the pan and mix well. Using a potato masher, spread the mixture into the pan into a solid, even layer.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes – allow to sit for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.