Monday, April 26, 2010

Curried Red Lentils and Collards

Our Monday night dinner was some curried red lentils, a whole grain roll, and salad.  This sort of thing is a pretty typical dinner in our house because it's quick and quite filling. My significant other can be a picky eater sometimes, but I'll give him this: he loves leafy greens and legumes. So when I keep it simple, it's pretty easy to get a healthy meal into him. We love collards both raw and cooked, so I often use them as an ingredient in a mixed green salad. This time, we had them both ways:  in the salad as well as some lightly sauteed to top the lentils.

This is really basic food, and  of course is very flexible and easy to adjust to varying is an approximate recipe of  what I threw it together...

Makes roughly 6 servings:

3 cups dry red lentils
3 carrots, diced fine
3 celery ribs, chopped fine
1 large onion, diced fine
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
handful fresh parsley, finely chopped (~ 1 cup chopped)
1 generous tablespoon tomato paste
8 - 10 cups veggie broth, or water, or some combo thereof (amount depends on whether you like it soupy or stew-like)
2 bay leaves
pinch of red chili flakes
1 teaspoon dry ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 generous tablespoon of  your preferred curry powder(or more to taste)
a bit of oil or water for sauteeing
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups fresh collards, cut chiffonade style
toasted cumin seeds

Sweat off the red chili flakes, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, parsley, and bay leaves in a little oil or water until it becomes a little tender, add in the cumin, coriander, and curry and continue to saute for another couple of minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the red lentils and water/veggie broth, bring to a simmer and then reduce heat and allow to simmer gently for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water/broth as necessary to create the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with some lightly sauteed collards and toasted cumin seeds.

A squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some diced fresh tomatoes would be nice additions too.

Have a happy week everyone.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pottering and Garden Photos

Photography has never been my forte, so these photos aren't beauty shots by any means, but I do like to take photos of my garden. It's interesting to see how perennial plants and trees grow from year to year, and it helps me remember what I've planted in previous seasons. Documenting the garden with pictures can be useful too. For instance, sometimes I can't remember what I have planted in a certain pot after it has died back...but I can usually figure it out by looking at some shots I took earlier in the season.

On the weekends, or before/after work, you'll most likely find me in the garden, especially this time of year. When I'm in the garden...or in any garden...I feel like something loosens up inside of me and that I can breathe more deeply; I feel happy and good. This post is just a few pics I took while pottering around and feeling good... 

I hung this mobile on a low tree branch; the little people dance when it's windy, and my cat likes to watch them.

Over the weekend, I cleared away a bunch of leaves and rubbish from this work bench. It's a nice place to sit and survey the garden. The area is covered by some sheet plastic, so I like to sit there when it rains and listen to the drops hit the's sort of like being in a greenhouse when it rains, but less intense.

Pansies and violas are some of  my favorite flowers--they are like little faces looking back at you.




The potting bench is also a nice place to enjoy a meal,

and to soak in the quiet of the garden at dusk.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stewed Baby Artichokes & Tomatoes

Organic baby artichokes from California have been arriving in local shops around here, and when I see these little guys, I can't resist buying some. I'd  love to leave them sitting in a bowl and just look at them, because they are so pretty. But, it's usually not long before they end up in a pot.

I'm always looking for new ways to prepare artichokes, so anyone reading, please share your favorite artichoke recipes if you're so inclined. : ) My favorite way to prepare artichokes is to stew them with some tomatoes and shallots. It's simple, yet tasty and goes wonderfully  with rice or crusty bread.

I have to admit that preparing these little guys seems sort of wasteful at first, because you really do need to remove all the tough parts and outer layers. The tender middle is a worthy reward though, and it helps to remember that they are thistles, so it's natural that you'd have to do a bit of grooming to make them palatable.

I usually start by topping and tailing them, cutting off the top third of the flower and the very tip of the stem. If  you like, you can try to salvage any little inner bits from the top that seem tender enough to eat.

top third cut off

Then, I remove the outer leaves. I  rely on my  tactile sense and just keep pulling leaves off until I can only feel tender flesh...any little bit of toughness and I pull the leaf. Pulling the leaves off in a downward motion will also remove the outer skin on the stem, which is good, because it's tough and not particularly nice to eat.

outer leaves and skin on stem removed

Finally, I cut the artichoke in half length-wise and remove the center of the choke with a paring knife.  You can see below that the bottom piece has the choke removed, while the top piece still has the choke in tact. At this point, you'd want to drop the artichokes in some water with lemon juice, as they will turn brown very quickly otherwise. 

When I make this particular dish, I usually get the tomato sauce cooking first, and then as I prepare each artichoke, just drop it right into the stewing sauce. The acid from the tomatoes works the same as lemon juice, and once the artichokes are immersed and begin to cook, you no longer have to worry about them going brown.

choke removed (left)

For the stewing sauce, I saute some roughly sliced shallot and garlic in a bit of olive oil and add a few red pepper flakes.When the shallot begins to become tender, I toss in some roughly chopped fresh tomatoes and about 1 cup of water, then toss in the artichokes as I prepare them.  For this batch, I used 2 large shallots, 6 garlic cloves (left whole) 10 baby artichokes, and  6 large vine tomatoes. Once I  have all ingredients in the pot, I bring it to a simmer, cover, and let it cook gently for about 30-40 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.

In the end, you have a simple artichoke dish. I usually garnish it with fresh parsley, but any herb of choice would be good. A squeeze of fresh lemon is also a nice addition.

Bon Appétit

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mid-week Mezze

After dutifully plodding through leftovers on Monday and Tuesday, we finally busted loose for some much more exciting fare tonight, munching our way through a variety of savory snacks. It was a nice way to spend an April evening.

Stuffed grape leaves have been on my mind for a while now; I've had them in restaurants,  but I had never made them myself, so I was excited to try.

I stuffed the leaves with some leftover brown basmati rice, chick peas, lemon juice, and fresh mint. I love the tang of the leaves with the taste of fresh mint.  On the side (lower right corner in photo), I made some Bulgarian-style tofu yogurt, and added some cucumber and parsley to it. The recipe is from Bryanna Clark Grogan, and I read about it in this post from The Airy Way blog...Zoa from The Airy Way is right:  this stuff is's not sweet like store-bought soy yogurts tend to be, and you can add any flavors to it to make it as sweet or savory as you like. Thanks to both Bryanna Clark Grogan and Zoa!

This plate has some marinated asparagus with butter bean and rosemary hummus and some kalamata and manzanilla olives on the side. The idea for the asparagus came from Alicia of Vegan Epicurean, when she posted  about the benefits (both health- and taste-wise) of eating raw asparagus and provided a quick and delicious recipe for making a marinated asparagus salad. I've always loved asparagus in any form, and this made a crunchy delicious dipper for the hummus. Thanks Alicia! ( And yes, we double dip...hee-hee.)

For the hummus, I blended 1 cup cooked butter beans, 1 small clove garlic, two tablespoons of ground flax seed,  1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, and I think about 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Over the top we drizzled some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled fresh rosemary to taste. 

I have two containers of French sorrel in my garden and I'm trying to use it on a regular basis. It tastes like sour apples to me, which makes sense because it's in the same family as rhubarb. Lately, I've taken to pinching off leaves and snacking on them while I potter around in the garden...I find the taste addictive. Above,  is a small-chopped, horiatiki-style salad on sorrel leaves. I didn't have any tomato, so red pepper, kalamata olives, red onion, and cucumber sufficed along with some lemon juice, black pepper, and olive oil.

And finally, here are some stewed tomatoes and artichokes along with whole wheat pita and some carrot crackers that I found at Whole Foods. The artichokes are stewed with fresh tomato, shallot, and garlic...I have some pretty pictures of the baby artichokes, so I'll post about that separately.

I leave you with a wee asparagus sandwich :

Roseann LaPonte
Rosanne Tobin

Monday, April 5, 2010

Seitan Braciole and Coconut Cake

Growing up, braciole was a typical Sunday/holiday meal in our house. My mom used to make it by rolling an egg filling in pounded flank steaks, browning off the rolls in olive oil and then braising them in a tomato-based sauce. She made the filling with raw egg, parmigiano cheese, garlic, parsley, and black pepper, and I think possibly some bread crumbs-- the egg would cook up with the braciole and make a cheesy/slightly omelette-like filling. I haven't eaten my mom's version in well over 20 years, but this past weekend, I decided to give my own vegan version a try.

Here's my version; it looks much like what I remember from my childhood (in a vegan way):

For the filling, I used lemon pignoli "ricotta" ( the recipe for which can be found by scrolling down on this page). I added garlic and parsley to it, so the filling ended up being  pine nuts, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. For the seitan, I used my old standby: easy baked seitan, and added some ketchup and vegan worcestershire in an attempt to make it somewhat beef-like.

I rolled several pieces of seitan out  to about 1/4 - 1/2-inch thickness and spread the pine nut filling across them....not knowing what to expect, I went sparingly on the time I'll use more. Then, I rolled up the seitan much like you would roll up loaves of  bread. I used kabob sticks to "weave" them closed, but in retrospect, I'm convinced that the rolls would have stayed together without them.

I used Vegan Epicurean's method of steam-baking the seitan...I find this method works great for cooking seitan. Thanks Alicia!

I baked the rolls for about an hour or so, pouring water on to the baking sheet as it evaporated and turning the rolls periodically so they browned evenly on all sides. They browned nicely and stayed much more moist than if they had been dry-baked in tin foil. About a half an hour before serving, I added the rolls to a pot of tomato sauce that had been cooking for many hours and let the rolls heat through and absorb some of the sauce:

The braciole went nicely on a plate of pasta with herb-roasted tomatoes. (Note the cute bunny in the background.):

Final verdict...the filling is "garlicky" and pine-nutty...very good, can't say it mimics mom's egg filling exactly...but it provided a similar rich dimension. My mom thought it was good, though did not go into detail by way of comparisons...

The seitan itself was tender and tasty...any seitan of choice would be good. I'm thinking of future versions  with chicken-style seitan and a sun-dried tomato many possibilities, so little time.

Now for the cake part: there were a good few people slated for our Easter gathering, so I volunteered to make a coconut cake. I used a recipe for coconut-lime cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I've made many of the recipes from this book and have always been happy with the result.

I quadrupled the recipe to make two, 9-inch round cakes. It's been so long since I've baked any goodies, I had forgotten how much fun it is.

Here's the final cake:

I topped it with thick coconut flake (some toasted). We ate it with the Dark Chocolate flavor of Coconut Bliss. (Incidentally--and I'm not a sweet tooth by any stretch of the imagination--the Pineapple-Coconut flavor of this same brand is pure ambrosia.)

Apparently, I lied when I said no photos were taken of the cake served out...I just found this one on my camera that someone must have snapped unbeknownst to me...or maybe I did unbeknownst to myself:


When I eat cake, it often make me think of Alice and her looking-glass cake:

"I'm sure I don't know," the Lion growled out as he lay down again. "There was too much dust to see anything. What a time the Monster is cutting up that cake!"

    Alice had seated herself on the bank of a little brook, with the great dish on her knees, and was sawing away diligently with the knife. "It's very provoking!" she said, in reply to the Lion (she was getting quite used to being called "the Monster"). "I've cut several slices already, but they always join on again!"

    "You don't know how to manage Looking-glass cakes," the Unicorn remarked. "Hand it round first, and cut it afterward."

(From Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland  and Through the Looking Glass.)

Original illustration by John Tenniel

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