Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summer Squash with Tofu and Balsamic Roasted Shallots

New England summer staples

The season:

There’s a lot of “I can’t wait for fall!” giddiness going on this week. What gives? Yes, the cool morning air is refreshing and it’s been nice digging out a few lightweight long sleeved tops for layering, but for the love of god, people, let’s stay focused.

It’s still summer. It’s gorgeous out. Let’s embrace it.

Nothing says summer in New England more than zucchini and summer squash, crayon-colorful and absolutely ubiquitous this time of year. Cook it up with a little EVOO, garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh thyme and you’re in business – add pan-friend tofu with a side of balsamic roasted shallots, and you’ve done your summer staple proud.

The dish:
Roasted shallots add an unexpected touch of sweetness
This easy vegan entree comes together in four simple parts. First, put 1 cup of brown rice on the stove and let cook for about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 and grab your:

Balsamic Roasted Shallots:
  • 8-10 large shallots, peeled with ends removed
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme

Pan-fried tofu:
  • 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Sea salt to taste

Summer squash, zucchini & sliced mushrooms:
  • 3 small summer squash, sliced at ¼ inch thickness
  • 3 small zucchini, sliced at ¼ inch thickness
  • ¾ cup white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Begin by peeling the shallots and trimming the ends. Arrange all shallots on a large cookie sheet and drizzle with balsamic and EVOO. Sprinkle with sea salt and place the thyme evenly across the cookie sheet. Cover with tin foil and roast at 400 for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the tin foil and thyme sprigs, and continue to roast for another 15 minutes, or until the shallots are evenly browned.

While the shallots are roasting to perfection, pan-fry your tofu in 1 TBSP EVOO over medium heat. As tofu begins to brown, after about 5-7 minutes, add the red pepper flakes and garlic, stirring often to make sure the garlic doesn't burn. At the 10 minute mark, add sea salt and cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until desired crispness.

And for the squash, grab a large frying pan and heat the EVOO over medium. Add the squash and mushrooms, stirring often until they start to soften. After about 5 minutes, add your red pepper flakes, sea salt and pepper. If your squash is sticking to the pan at all, add a splash of veggie stock or water. When the squash and mushrooms are soft but still firm, about 8-10 minutes in, add a sprinkling touch of thyme and remove from heat.

Serve over a scoop of brown rice, piling your squash on first, followed by the tofu and shallots. If desired, garnish with fresh thyme. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Avocado Kale Salad

Fresh herbs and a tangy Asian flavor

The Shout out:

Here's another great recipe that I can't take credit for: a crunchy avocado kale salad with a delightful twist of lime and rice wine vinegar. Or, as the authoress over at Cookie + Kate calls it, a Chopped Kale Salad with Edamame, Carrot and Avocado.

What a fabulous salad, folks. Super easy and adaptable, it's a big old bowl of veggies that's perfect for a side dish or entree alike. Truth be told, I had originally whipped it up with the intention of serving it alongside a veggie burger. But as I was in the "testing" phase of the recipe - you know, when you're checking for juuust the right amount of salt, citrus or spice - I just stood there and ate..and ate...and ate.

Dinner without any dishes! Fine by me.

I deviated from the recipe ever so slightly by steaming my kale for about 3 minutes instead of sticking to the 100% raw recipe. I also omitted the edamame altogether because I didn't have any on hand. Go ahead and experiment - I'm even thinking of throwing some sesame tofu into the mix next time around. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Garlic and Black Pepper Tofu

In your face flavor

The shout out:

No doubt, the internet is alive with vegan recipe inspiration. The ideas I get from Pinterest and Food Gawker alone could keep me in fresh new recipes for life. And then, of course, there are the blogs – which can only be described as profuse.

And thank goodness. What fun!

Garlic and Black Pepper Tofu: serve over udon noodles or brown rice
But then there are those sites that are just plain weird. Unsightly, strange to navigate and seemingly unanchored to an identifiable author or institution. You know, the sites you tend to avoid. With so much beautiful cooking content to sift through in the internet-at-large, why stick around?

You stick around because, with patience, recipes with unprecedented elegance – i.e. Garlic andBlack Pepper Tofu – emerge from the clutter.

Elegance, here, comes as freshly cracked black pepper marries minced cilantro root as if they’re the most passionate and compatible of lovers. Coming together in a powerful sauce (not for the weak of heart) of garlic, tamari and cane sugar, this recipe, which lives in a most inconspicuous corner of the internet, deserves a standing ovation.

If you’re into your cilantro, you must try this truly original, Thai-inspired spin – and where the recipe calls for red bell peppers and green beans, don’t be afraid to experiment. I’ve added veggies from mushrooms to kale with great success! The sauce is so good, you'll want to double this recipe to ensure you have enough.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sweet Potato Chili

Who said chili had to be meaty?

The veggie:

Growing up, my mom would always have baked sweet potatoes on hand, ready to serve at almost any meal. And you know what? She was onto something. There’s very little in this world that a sweet potato won’t complement. 

Plus, busy as you are, it's a great way to pack more veggies into your routine. Simply prepare a few baked sweet potatoes at the beginning of the week. If you don’t use them for dinner, there are plenty of to-die-for dessert options to explore.

And we all know sweet potatoes are something of a superfood. From the ClevelandClinic on down, they enjoy a revered reputation, topping almost every health food list ever published. High in vitamins B6 and C, plus iron, magnesium and fiber, sweeties (we’re on intimate terms) are a vegan dream – as good for you as they are delicious, and super versatile and filling too.

With the mild August evenings we’ve been having here in Boston, last night was perfect for a simmering pot of vegan chili. Loaded with hearty sweet potato chunks, zucchini, bell peppers and crisp corn – plus a kick of cayenne – my vegan Sweet Potato Chili is equally sweet and spicy, and pairs perfectly with a salty tortilla chip.

The chili:

Get your Tupperware ready, because you’re about to have delicious leftover lunches all week with the 6+ servings this recipe yields! You’ll also need:

  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • ¾ tsp cayenne
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, diced
  • 2 28 oz cans tomatoes, crushed or diced
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 14 oz can kidney beans
  • 1 14 oz can chickpeas
  • 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • Tortilla chips for serving

Begin by heating the EVOO over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the red and green bell peppers and zucchini and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir often as vegetables cook for 7-8 minutes. Next, add your spices – cumin, chili powder, cayenne and garlic and stir to thoroughly incorporate.

Now add the sweet potato, tomato and vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. All your veggies should be “swimming” in a delicious tomato-y pool – add more veggie stock (or water) if needed to bring to a simmer. Stirring often, let simmer for 20-25 minutes, until your potatoes soften.

Once the potatoes are fork-soft, add the kidney beans, chick pea and corn and let cook for 10 minutes. Finally, start your taste-testing – add cayenne, cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with freshly sliced green onions and a bowl of salty tortilla chips.

And as you’re spooning a steaming portion of vegan sweet potato chili into your bowl, pause for a moment and congratulate yourself. For you, my friend, will be eating like a king all week.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pineapple Fried Rice

Sweet and salty on a Sunday night 
The Sunday:

Sunday usually calls for a take-your-time recipe. Something challenging or never-before-attempted. Some new vegan inspiration you can put together at your leisure, learning along the way.
Make your own Pineapple Fried Rice! It'll be amazing.

Well, most Sundays go this way. But not all.

If you’re frantically planning your own wedding (like me, omg), the notion of overpriced takeout delivered to your doorstep takes on a whole new allure…even on the most sacred of stay-at-home cooking days. 

But no, no! Sunday kitchen time, you will be mine. And so will you, Pineapple Fried Rice, aka Takeout 2.0.

The Recipe:

This dish is such a treat – juicy pineapple, salty cashews, and loads of vegan color from carrots, peppers and peas. It’s a feast for the eyes as much as the belly.

And it’s so simple! Sometimes it’s intimidating to attempt restaurant recreations – we feel we’ll be downgrading a dish, creating a lesser version of professional kitchen classics.

But not here. Cast off those doubts and create your own Thai-inspired vegan entrée. For your Pineapple Fried Rice, you’ll need:
  • 1 ¼ cup brown Jasmine rice, cooked (& cooled in the fridge if you have time)*
  • 1 leek, sliced (white and light green part only)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes, to taste
  • ½ tsp ginger, freshly grated
  • 1 ½ tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 carrots, bias cut
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • cup pineapple, cubed
  • cup cashews, roasted and salted
  • ¼ cup vegetable stock
  • 2-4 tsp Tamari or soy sauce, to taste
  • 2 scallions, sliced for garnish

In a large frying pan, heat your EVOO on medium and add leeks. Stir leeks for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add red pepper flakes to taste, ginger, curry, coriander and turmeric. Stir gently to coat the leeks with your spices, 2 minutes. Next, add the red pepper, carrot, peas, pineapple and cashews. Stir to incorporate and then add your vegetable stock. Cook for 5-7 minutes. As veggies soften, add the rice and 2 teaspoons tamari. As you incorporate the rice, taste test for your tamari – adding in small increments until it’s just right. Top with scallions and serve!

If you want some extra sweetness, toss in a handful of raisins with your veggies. My fiance has a raisin-hangup, otherwise, I would have included them here!

*Leftover or cooled rice works wonderfully in fried rice, but freshly cooked rice will be fine, too.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Moroccan Carrot Summer Soup

The perfect pureed soup

The shout out:

After a brutal work week, Friday night called for a fresh and rewarding meal, but nothing too complex. I was looking for a simple vegan soup to throw together in under an hour - something I could quickly whip up, throw on the stove and leave to its own devices while I...

...laid prostrate on the kitchen floor?
Remember that Jewel song "You Were Meant for Me"?
That's how I feel about this vegan carrot soup...

(Really, I work in a Creative department full of beautiful, talented characters. But our 40 hours together this week were trying.)

Thumbing through my recipe library, i.e. my Pinterest page, Moroccan Carrot Summer Soup by Meet the Shannons popped out: the color, the texture, the blessed fact that there are only two main ingredients: carrot and onion. 

And so it was. Not only did I have an excuse to buy a loaf of crusty bread, sprouts and heirloom tomatoes for a little side snack, I got to use my immersion blender, god's gift to soups everywhere.

With under 20 minutes of prep and a few inconsequential minutes of a bubbling pot doing its thang, vegan carrot soup never tasted so good. Be sure to check it out!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Garlicky kale with sesame tofu

Tofu + greens = power team 

The protein:

My highly versatile, hugely yummy sesame tofu
Tofu – it’s pretty polarizing. Meat-eaters mock it and even among vegetarians, there’s not a clear consensus. While some are worried about the alleged health risks associated with soy consumption, other are worried about, well, making it taste good. 

It’s not the easiest to prepare, after all. Making the most of your tofu involves pressing it to remove excess water and then developing a recipe chock-full of flavor for the tofu to absorb. The quality* (i.e. price) of your tofu is also a factor in where your meal registers on the deliciousness continuum.  

Then, of course, there’s your preparation method – baking, frying, stir-frying, steaming. Where to begin? What on earth to do?

You bake it up sesame garlic style, as I did for this epic salad, and then you move on with your life. 

The power:
Yet you’ll surely run up against some follow-up questions, namely: now what? What do I do with a pan of perfectly browned sesame tofu?

When in doubt, my friends, go for garlic + greens. Sautéed kale, spinach, or collards work wonderfully here. Sliced mushrooms bring a mild meaty flavor, where your yellow peppers bring crunch and color.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked
  • 1 large bunch kale, roughly chopped
  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced
  • ¾ cup mushrooms, sliced (white or Crimini variety)
  • 1 small onion, sliced into half moons
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1-2 pinches red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1.5 TBSP toasted sesame oil
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste

If you're tofu-ambivalent, try it sesame style over garlic greens!
Heat the EVOO on medium and add the onion. Cook for 4-5 minutes, adding garlic and red pepper flakes once the onion softens. Cook for 1 minute before adding the yellow pepper and mushroom. Stirring often, cook the peppers and mushrooms for about 4 minutes. 

Finally, toss in the kale and stir to incorporate. You may want to add a drizzle of EVOO or a few splashes of water or veggie stock to create some stream. As your kale turns bright green, after about 4-5 minutes, add a generous hit of sea salt and pepper. Finish up by turning off the heat and adding a light drizzle of toasted sesame oil. 

Prepare your bowl with couple heaping spoonfuls of rice, a generous layer of steaming kale, and as many pieces of tofu as you deem reasonable. Yes, it’s fantastic, but you don’t have to eat it all in one sitting – it holds up in the fridge just fine. 

* As a Connecticut native, I’m hugely fond of The BridgeTofu, out of Middletown, CT. Living in Boston, I’m lucky to still have access to The Bridge’s handmade tofu, even if it retails at about 2x the price of store-brand varieties.