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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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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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.


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Beating the Chills in California with Vegetarian Pho

OK, before the wisecracks begin about “chills” in California, it really has been cold here – so cold that we have had to protect our citrus trees and winter garden from the elements.  Also, in my defense, houses here really aren’t built for cold weather, so when the temperature drops below 0 C (or 32F), you really feel it!

Protecting our fruit trees from the freezing nights

Protecting our fruit trees from the freezing nights

All this cold weather talk led to making pho for dinner tonight.  I’ve made versions of pho in the past, but have never gotten the broth to taste quite as deelish as my favourite local pho joint.  This time, I think I got it (almost – it could have used a bit more salt and a bit more heat – but that’s an easy fix).

I started off by making the broth for the soup by toasting coriander seeds, anise and cinnamon in a pot, and adding in water, along with an onion, carrot and some celery.  I knew I was onto something when the smell of this broth started to spread through the kitchen.

Pho broth

Broth simmering on the stove

While the broth simmered, I sautéed some tofu in a cast iron pan and prepped my veggies.

Carrots, celery and mushrooms

Carrots, celery and mushrooms

We’ve planted bok choy in our winter garden – hopefully it will survive the cold spell. In the meantime, I’ll continue to rely on the farmers market.

Bok choy

Bok choy

My favourite brand of rice noodles is Annie Chun’s (FYI, the noodles are on sale with a 20% coupon right now on Amazon). I boiled these in a pot for about 4 minutes. While the noodles were boiling, I added the veggies to the tofu and lightly sautéed them – you don’t want mushy veggies in your pho, so just sauté them enough so they get a bit of colour.

I placed the noodles in a large bowl, followed by the tofu and veggies and then ladled in the broth. The bowl was topped off with fresh jalapeños, scallions and a lime wedge. I would have added cilantro as well, but I forgot to grab it from the garden while it was still light out.

A steaming bowl of vegetarian pho

A steaming bowl of vegetarian pho

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 1 block tofu, cubed
  • 8 mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 bok choy, trimmed
  • 1 box flat rice noodles (you could also use vermicelli)
  • lime wedges, sliced jalapeño, scallions, cilantro and anything else you’d like for garnish
  1. In a large pot, toast the coriander seeds, cinnamon and star anise on low heat until fragrant. Add the water, onion, carrot and celery. Cover the pot, bring to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer for about 20 minutes.
  2. While the broth is simmering, prep veggies and sauté tofu. I let the tofu sauté in my cast iron pan on fairly low heat – just to get a crispy texture on the outside.
  3. Once the broth is ready, follow the directions on the rice noodles (the Annie Chun noodles recommended boiling for 4 to 5 minutes).  I used the same 4 minutes to add the veggies into the tofu to sauté together – season to taste.
  4. Build your bowl by layering the noodles, tofu and veggies, broth and then top with your favourite garnish.


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Poblano Enchiladas with Cashew “Cheeze”

I had been looking for a vegan alternative when making enchiladas that didn’t require beans. I decided to try making my own “ricotta” style filling using soaked cashews, which proved to be a great success. Another reason why I really liked this recipe was because I was able to let the summer vegetables from our garden be the star of the dish.

I started off by sautéing onions and poblano peppers – poblanos are super easy to grow and we had an abundance in our garden this year.  I did these up with some cumin and chipotle chili powder in my cast iron pan.

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To make the “cheeze”, I soaked the cashews for an hour in boiling water – if you’re able to plan in advance, you can soak the cashews in regular water for a few hours instead.  Make sure you are using raw cashews – you can save a bit of money if you opt to buy cashew pieces instead of whole cashews. Trader Joe’s sells them in 1 pound bags which should make enough to serve 6 (or two pizzas).IMG_3100

In the food processor, I pureed the cashews with some salt, pepper, lemon juice and fresh cilantro.  I was going to post a recipe for this, but I forgot to keep track of how much I used.  Just taste the mixture – if you’re willing to eat it on its own, you’ve hit gold :).IMG_3102

By the time I was ready to fill the enchiladas, I got a bit lazy, so I just layered the tortillas (I used corn tortillas to make the dish gluten-free) in a pan, followed by layers of “cheeze” and the pepper mixture.  I then baked it for about 30 minutes and served it with fresh avocado.IMG_3109

I’ve used this “cheeze” in lasagna as well as on pizza – instead of cilantro, I used fresh basil from the garden, which was just as delicious.  It also tastes great leftover the next day, so you can always make extra to pack a lunch or get a second meal out of it.