Saturday, January 29, 2011

Oaxacan Black Mole with Mesquite-Smoked Tofu and Polenta in Tortilla Cups with Plantain Chips

Dinner 1/29

Oaxacan Black Mole with Mesquite-Smoked Tofu


Tortilla Cups

Plantain Chips

Tonight's Vegan Test Kitchen idea came from a conversation with our friend Laura, who is going to participate in a local food competition. She wanted to combine polenta, mole and plantains in a small, one or two bite dish that would be full of flavor and not too difficult to assemble at the facility.

We put on our thinking caps kicked around a few conceptual ideas, and this is what we came up with...

Starting with the base, we cut 2 1/2" rounds out of red chile tortilla shells which were sprayed lightly with olive oil and sprinkled with a little chipotle powder, salt and pepper on both sides before baking them in the muffin tins at 400F for 10 minutes. The cups came out crispy and aromatic.

The plantain chip was a three-step process. First it was cut about 1/4" thick, sprinkled with salt, pepper and ancho powder, baked on a rack at 400F for 10 minutes.

Second, we took them out and pounded them gently between a piece of lightly oiled parchment paper with the flat part of a meat mallet* until they were about 1/8" thick. At this point we dipped them in a 1:1 mixture of lime juice:water with a little salt added.

Finally, they went back into the oven for another 10 minutes or so. To plate, we cut a little notch into the plantain chip so it would sit right on the edge of the tortilla cup.

The plantain texture was more chewy than crisp, but we weren't going for a potato chip -- otherwise we would have deep-fried them. Taste-wise they were pretty much what we were going for -- plantains are what they are.

The only thing we'll do next time is go with a 450F oven and a slightly more ripe plantain -- they were pretty blackened, with just a little yellow left, but they were still medium firm inside.

The polenta started with 1 cup of fine cornmeal whisked into 4 cups of boiling water seasoned with 1 tbs. of salt. From there we turned down the heat to low and made it like a risotto, adding an additional 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup at a time here and there (don't sweat the timing, just don't let it scorch the bottom of the pan). Finally, we stirred in 2 tbs. of soy margarine, 2 tbs. of nutritional yeast, 1/2 cup of Daiya Mozzarella, 1 tsp. of ground Mexican Oregano and 1 tsp. of black pepper. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, and check for seasoning.

Mole is a dish of layers and layers slowly revealing it's flavors over time. The challenge is in the organization at the beginning and getting all of the flavors to mesh at the end.

The original idea was to shorten the usual complex, all day process of making a traditional Oaxacan-style mole by using ingredients we already had on hand. Of course our pantry and spice cabinet are pretty well stocked to begin with, so it wasn't like we were making major substitutions. In the end, we achieved our goal -- by cutting down the cooking time to only four hours by starting with ground chiles and homemade veg stock. ;)

We started with a combination of Susana Trilling and Rick Bayless recipes.

Part one was the chiles. We had picked up ground chiles at Urban Herbs at the West Side Market a while back. The tricky part is figuring out how much pre-ground chiles is equal to fresh chiles ground. In the end we went with 2 tsp. of ancho, 2 tsp. of chile de arbol and 1 tsp. of chipotle. Set aside.

Part two: 1 medium red onion, quartered and 1/2 head of garlic toasted in a small pan (w/o oil) for 10 minutes, turning as needed. Set aside

Part three: In the same pan w/o oil add 2 tbs. almonds, 2 tbs. cashews and 1 tbs. pumpkin seeds, a cinnamon stick, 3 black peppercorns and 3 cloves for 5 minutes. Set aside.

Part four: Add 3 tbs. of oil to the same pan and cook 1 1/2 tbs. of raisins (until plump, 1 minute), then 1 slice of bread until toasted on both sides, finally 1 small plantain diced and cooked until well browned, about 10 minutes. Set all aside.

Part five: add a little more oil if needed and fry 1/2 cup of sesame seeds until browned, about 5 minutes. remove, let cool, grind in a spice grinder until it turns into a paste. Set aside.

Part six: Wipe out the pan and add 1/2 lb. chopped tomatoes, 1/4 lb. chopped tomatillos (we had some leftover tomatillo salsa, about a 1/3 of a cup), 1/2 tsp thyme, and 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano over med-high heat, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a high-speed blender and add 1/2 cup of veg stock and blend well. Set aside.

Part seven: Put the reserved nuts, bread, plantains, raisins, onion, garlic and spices in the high-speed blender, add about 1 cup of veg stock and puree.

Part eight: In a heavy stockpot on med-low heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the chile mixture from step one, stirring constantly for 30-45 seconds. Be careful and don't let the chiles burn, or it'll ruin the dish.

Add the tomato puree from step six, and fry until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 10 minutes.

Add the the sesame seed paste from step five and ground ingredients from step seven, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes.

Add 1 cup veg stock to the mole, stir to combine, cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Part nine: Add one disk of Mexican chocolate (about 3oz), broken up as small as you can make it -- we did it the spice grinder in small batches, but a large knife will also do the job. Stir until it melts.

Part ten: As the mole thickens, slowly add more veg stock. Let simmer another 30 minutes, adding stock as needed. You're looking for a final sauce that should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Check for salt -- you'll want enough to balance the slight bitterness from the chiles and chocolate.

I'm exhausted just reading that back... thankfully the end result is worth the effort ;)

Things we learned: Mise en place is essential to this dish, it's very easy to lose track of where you are with this many "moving parts." Also, make sure your plantain is completely black or else they'll be too firm.

* not just for pounding out seitan anymore!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eggplant Provencal, Hedgehog Mushrooms and Roasted Garlic with French Bread

Dinner 1/27

Eggplant Provencal

Hedgehog Mushrooms and Roasted Garlic with French Bread

Tonight's meal comes from "Appetite For Reduction" and is a very yummy and filling eggplant, lentil, carrot and potato stew. But you already knew that, because most of you already own the book. ;)

We went up to the West Side Market and scored these delicious Hedgehog Mushrooms -- which at first we thought were Chanterelles, but if you look at the gills you can tell they're spiky looking -- hence the name.

As an appetizer, we roasted a head of garlic to accompany the sauteed mushrooms along with a loaf of French bread we picked up at Great Lakes Bakery in Hudson, on our way up to the WSM.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fresh Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Mushrooms

Dinner 1/23

Fresh Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Mushrooms

When making the pasta last night, we also made a second batch of plain pasta for our daughter who is not (yet) a fan of spicy things. Tonight we made the rest of that batch and added some fried mushrooms and cherry tomatoes to a simple nooch, earth balance & white wine sauce.

It may not be summer, but that doesn't mean it can't taste like it! ;)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fresh Red Bell Pepper and Chipotle Pasta, Grilled Mesquite-Smoked Tofu with a Cherry-Ancho Glaze

Dinner 1/22

Fresh Red Bell Pepper and Chipotle Pasta

Grilled Mesquite-Smoked Tofu with a Cherry-Ancho Glaze

One of our goals with the blog this year is to experiment more -- for example, the caviar last week. So, on the weekends (when we have the time), we're going to try learning new techniques. I can't guarantee a solid recipe each time out, but we'll all learn something along the way...

One of the glaring holes in my repertoire is the lack of experience working with flour -- i.e. pasta and bread. Liz handles those elements brilliantly, but it's time I quieted my lizard brain and go running towards things I don't know. ;)

Which brings us to tonight's Vegan Test Kitchen -- Fresh Red Bell Pepper and Chipotle Pasta. We started by roasting a red bell pepper on the stove until it was charred all over, and put it in a paper bag to let it steam for 10 minutes which makes it easier to remove the blackened bits later. After cleaning and seeding the pepper, we put it in the vita-mix along with 1 tsp. of dried chipotle powder and processed it until smooth, which gave us about a 1/3 cup of puree. The mixture will be very strong at this point, but that's a good thing.

Liz decided to make a variation on her pierogi dough which would accept the puree better -- 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tbs. egg replacer mixed with & 2 tbs. of water, 1/2 cup of soy sour cream and the 1/3 cup of pepper puree, kneaded into a dough on a lightly floured surface for 5-7 minutes -- the kneading was very instructive for me personally as I could really feel it start off "grainy" and progress towards a smooth dough. We wrapped the dough in plastic and put it in the fridge until dinner time.

For the other half of the meal, I broke out the smoker box and cut a block of tofu into eight cutlets and smoked them with mesquite wood for 25 minutes.

While the tofu was smoking, I made the glaze...

Cherry & Ancho Glaze

1 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. shallot (minced)
1 tbs. garlic (minced)

Saute the shallot & garlic on med-low until lightly browned.

1 cup of fresh cherries (pitted and lightly chopped)
1 tbs. agave
1 tbs. tamari
1 tsp. ancho powder
black pepper to taste.

Add the cherries, agave, tamari and ancho powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cherries have broken down -- about 10 minutes. Add the fresh ground black pepper and check for seasoning and balance. You may need to add more agave (or brown sugar) depending on how sweet the cherries were. Add the cherry mixture to the blender and puree until smooth.

Pour the mixture into a shallow pan or plate and add the smoked tofu cutlets and turn to coat thoroughly. Let marinate for at least 20 minutes. Grill the cutlets, basting occasionally, keep an eye on them so they don't burn (because of the sugar).

The pasta was taken out of the fridge and allowed to come back to room temp. It was rolled out thinly and cut into strips (think tagliatelle) with a pizza cutter, as in the picture above.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and cook the pasta in batches until it floats to the top.

We made a quick tomato sauce with a little smoked paprika and dropped the hot pasta straight into the sauce, turned it gently to coat it fully and then it went straight onto the plate, topped with tofu.

Things to think about for next time: a spicy tomato sauce may not have been the best choice as it competed with the pasta, but the pasta itself turned out really well -- and the pepper flavor did come through despite the competition.

The glaze from the fresh cherries could have used some dried cherries to give it a little more tartness. Pretty close though.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Teriyaki, BBQ Baby Eggplant

Dinner 1/19


BBQ Baby Eggplant

Much the same teriyaki as the other night, with the addition of Enoki Mushrooms on top.

Also joining the party was a side of BBQ baby eggplants -- cut in half, marinated in a mixture of sesame oil, tamari, sherry, hoisin and then grilled. The eggplant turned out really creamy inside and tangy outside. The trick is to go slow (time) and low (heat) -- you need to give it the time to cook all the way through so as not to burn or char the sauce on the outside of the eggplant.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Split-Pea Soup with Seitan Sausages, Parsnips St. Jacques, Chaussons aux pommes

Dinner 1/16

Split-Pea Soup with Seitan Sausages

Parsnips St. Jacques
(from Urban Vegan)


Chaussons aux pommes

Winter and Split-Pea Soup is a timely match given all the snow we've had here lately. The pressure cooker took care of the green split peas which was added to sauteed onion, garlic, celery, diced carrots & parsnips. The soup was topped with fried seitan mini-sausages (from the earlier batch).

For a side dish, we made a batch of this wonderful parsnip dish from Urban Vegan -- Wait, what? You don't own this book yet? Go get it now!

For dessert Liz whipped up a quick batch of chaussons aux pommes (French apple turnovers) using leftover puff pastry and Gala apples that were hiding in the back of the fridge. Sub out earth balance & Liz used a tiny amount of a flour & water mix in place of the eggwash.

I'd eat that -- oh, wait, I did ;)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Collard Greens with Coconut Curry Sauce, Grilled Tea-Smoked Tofu, Jasmine Rice

Dinner 1/15

Collard Greens with Coconut Curry Sauce

Grilled Tea-Smoked Tofu

Jasmine Rice

This is a riff on the recipe we made for lunch last week.

There were a couple of differences. First, we cut the tofu into cutlets, then marinated them with a variation on our usual mix with canola oil, tamari, agave, ketchup, black pepper, minced garlic and a touch of sesame oil.

The basic collard greens method stayed the same. In a wok on med-high heat add 1 tbs. canola oil, 1 tsp. garlic, 1 tsp. ginger. Cook for 30 seconds until aromatic, then add the thinly cut collards greens and turn constantly. Cook for five minutes, until the collards are softened. Add a splash of tamari, turn to coat, cook for one additional minute. Remove from the wok and keep warm.

Next, the curry sauce that the collards are braised in was fortified. In the same wok, add 1 tsp. of canola oil and stir-fry 2 tbs. of shallots and 1 tbs. garlic until fragrant, then add 1/2 can of coconut milk, and whisk in 1 tbs. green curry paste (more or less depending on your personal preference), 1/2 of a lime, juiced, 1 tsp. of agave and a splash of tamari. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes until slightly reduced. Add the collard greens back into wok, turn the heat down to low, put the lid on the wok and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Check for seasoning.

To plate, start with the base of jasmine rice, add the collard greens and pour some of the curry sauce over the top. One of the nice things about the curry sauce is how it soaks into the jasmine rice. Finally add the grilled tofu on top and serve hot.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Caviar, Pot Au Chocolat, Seitan Sausages wrapped in Puff Pastry

Dinner 1/14


Pot Au Chocolat with Fleur de sel

Seitan Sausages wrapped in Puff Pastry

Today we were in "vegan test kitchen" mode.

The caviar has been rattling around in my brain for a couple of months -- it goes back to an entry from the always interesting Ideas in Food blog which displayed a technique for poaching tapioca pearls with apple juice that was later used as a part of a soup.

With blini and caviar (which from came from a jar) still fresh in our minds (and palate) from New Year's Day, the time seemed right to give this technique a try.

Start by soaking 1/4 cup of (Bob's Red Mill) small tapioca pearls for 20 minutes in 1 cup of water.

While that is soaking make the braising liquid. Start with a 1 cup of water in a small pot, and add a 2" piece of kombu. While that comes up to a boil, toast one sheet of nori, put it in a spice grinder and reduce it to a powder. Add the nori powder, along with 1 tsp. of loose black tea to the now boiling water. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes and reduce until you have about 2/3 cup of liquid remaining. Turn the heat down to low and add 2 tsp. of tamari (or 1 tbs. Braggs Liquid Amino's). Adjust as needed, but be aware that the flavor will intensify the longer it sits.

While the braising liquid is simmering, fill a separate pot full of water (almost to the top) and bring it to a boil, place a mesh strainer across the top of the pot -- which will allow the tapioca to be easily removed after each round of blanching (around 45 seconds or so) -- and blanch four or five times, rinsing the pearls off between each round, which will help to not overcook them. You'll know the tapioca is done when it turns translucent and loses all traces of the "white" inside the pearl.

Immediately drain the tapioca and pour into a small saute pan -- make sure they're in a single layer -- and strain the warm soaking liquid over the pearls to cover.

Let the caviar soak until it has come back to room temp, and then refrigerate for at least two hours -- or for a deeper color and stronger taste of the sea, overnight.

The final verdict? Oh, hell yes... ;)

We made the seitan sausages (from Vegan Brunch) again, this time a double batch and smoked them in apple wood. They were pan-fried, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked, like we did on New Year's Eve. But without the book cover shot.

Finally, for dessert we took a stab at veganizing this recipe using soft tofu.

I'd say the flavor, temp and time were spot on, but there was a slight "weeping" issue after they cooled that affected the final texture. Next time we'll makes some tweaks and write up a recipe...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Dinner 1/12


Teriyaki is all about the sauce -- our non-traditional* take includes tamari, mirin, agave, ginger, garlic and black pepper. Rumors of an additional 1 tbs. of hoisin sauce are unconfirmed at this time. ;)

Normally you would marinate the protein (in this case, seitan) and then grill or broil to finish. Tonight we poured it over the stir-fried seitan along with carrots, red bell pepper, king trumpet mushrooms, baby corn and a base of thick noodles.

* (a.k.a. "you're doing it wrong!")

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Toor Dal, Puri, Grilled Okra

Dinner 1/09

Toor Dal


Grilled Okra

Recently, our oft-used 7qt. Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker began making strange sounds. We found out the bottom had started to ever-so-slightly warp around the edges of the core and was causing an audible (and disconcerting) popping sound. The prospect of being with out a pressure cooker was inconceivable (say that in Wallace Shawn's voice from "Princess Bride", it's funnier).

Liz jumped on the phone to the usual suspects, but no one had one locally. Undaunted, she kept working the phones, until she found one in Pennsylvania which arrived two days later. The crisis was averted, and everyone can now stand down from DEFCON 2.

To celebrate our new arrival, we made our favorite Indian soup using toor dal (a.k.a. yellow pigeon peas) in the pressure cooker. A combination of spices -- cumin seeds, coriander, smoked paprika and turmeric in this case (the amounts/spices depends on your preferences and what's available in your spice cabinet) -- are fried in a little oil until fragrant and then mixed into the pressure cooked dal along with salt. The dal was topped with fried onion seeds and fresh curry leaves.

The okra was marinated in a mixture of 1 tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. tamari, 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp. coriander and fresh cracked pepper to taste, and then grilled -- turning often, about 10 minutes total.

The puri was served along with the dal. A simple dough of 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of water and 1 tsp. of salt is kneaded in to a ball and allowed to rest for at least 1/2 hour to let the flour fully hydrate. The dough is rolled out thinly and cut with a round cookie cutter about 2 1/2" in diameter. The rounds are then deep-fried in peanut or canola oil at 375° F until they puff up into little pillows. ;)

Tea-Smoked Tofu, Collard Greens braised in Coconut Milk, Basmati Rice

Lunch 1/08

Tea-Smoked Tofu

Collard Greens braised in Coconut Milk

Basmati Rice

A quick lunch using leftover basmati rice as the base.

In a wok on med-high heat add 1 tbs. canola oil, 1 tsp. garlic, 1 tsp. ginger. Cook for 30 seconds until aromatic, then add the thinly cut collards greens and turn constantly. Cook for five minutes, until the collards are softened. Add a splash of tamari, turn to coat, cook for one additional minute.

Add 1/2 cup of coconut milk along with a pinch of sugar. Turn the heat down to low, add the wok lid and cook the collards for another 10 minutes.

Cut a block of tofu into small cubes and smoke with black tea for 20 minutes. Add 1 tbs. of canola oil to a wok and stir-fry on medium heat (turning constantly) until the tofu is golden brown (7-10 minutes). Splash with tamari at the end of cooking and toss for one additional minute.

To assemble, start with the re-heated rice at the bottom of the bowl, add the collard greens, pour some of the coconut milk on over the greens and top with the stir-fried tofu.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Stir-Fry, Jasmine Rice, Lotus Root Chips

Dinner 1/07


Jasmine Rice

Lotus Root Chips

I won't bore you with the stir-fry (tea-smoked tofu, carrot, red bell peppers, carrots, baby corn, king trumpet mushrooms, garlic, ginger, etc), but there's always time for the Lotus Root chips.

Liz took our daughter and her friends to CAM after school -- where amongst the Asian New Year's dresses, candy and day-glo colored "fruit" drinks with marbles (?!), they somehow managed to bring home actual food, including a beautiful lotus root.

The lotus root was slightly larger than normal, which meant I had to break out the mandoline rather than the smaller Benriner. I trimmed the end sections and peeled the outer skin with a vegetable peeler, revealing the pale rhizome underneath. Holding the lotus root at a 45° angle against the mandoline (with the blade set at roughly 1/16") will result in large, long chips. The first and last 1" sections don't look as cool -- but taste great as well. After cutting them, drop them in a chilled water bath so they don't discolor.

Using a thermometer, heat the peanut or canola oil to 375°F in a large wok or pot.

Remove the lotus root from the water, drain and pat dry before deep-frying.

Working in batches, so as not to crowd the wok (causing the oil to dramatically drop in temperature), carefully drop the lotus root into the oil and fry about one minute, flipping over once -- you can tell they're done when the lotus root stop bubbling around the edges.

Remove the lotus root from the oil and drain on paper towels or a wire rack -- they might look a little lighter in color than you want, but they'll continue to darken after you remove them. Immediately sprinkle with sea salt on both sides and serve.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Black Pepper Tofu Curry, Sweet Potatoes with Chile Tamarind Sauce

Dinner 1/06

Black Pepper Tofu Curry

Sweet Potatoes with Chile Tamarind Sauce

Basmati Rice

A riff on Maya Kaimal's recipe, subbing cubed and fried tofu for an otherwise vegan recipe.

The sweet potato recipe is a based on this recipe. In this version, we first peeled and cubed the sweet potatoes, then boiled them for 10 minutes and they were finally braised in the sauce. Our son made this dish, which was an excuse to teach him the joys of using a mortar and pestle, rather than use a food processor -- which we don't have anyway. ;)

Both dishes were served on a bed of basmati rice.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Dinner 1/05


The base made, as usual, with our shiitake mushroom stock, enhanced with kombu, yellow miso, garlic, ginger and black pepper. Rounding out the bowl was black tea smoked tofu, baby corn, shiitake mushrooms, leeks, miso, carrots, red bell pepper and udon noodles, all topped with scallions.

Monday, January 03, 2011

White Bean Cassoulet

Dinner 1/03

White Bean Cassoulet

File tonight's meal under "Foods we made for Holiday Party XIV, but were unable to eat at the time because it was all gone by the time we got out of the kitchen" ;)

The recipe is here -- the only change was we used the tofu scraps leftover from cutting the rounds for the BBQ Tofu Lollipops -- they were also smoked, pan-fried and finished with tamari.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Mushroom Quesadilla, Mexican Rice, Chile Rellenos

Dinner 1/02

Mushroom Quesadilla

Mexican Rice

Chile Rellenos

A simple Mexican style meal tonight -- the quesadillas were filled with cheddar Daiya, sauteed button mushrooms, and rajas (thinly sliced and fried poblanos peppers, red bell peppers and red onion seasoned with Mexican Oregano, salt & pepper).

The rice was a flashback to a dish from childhood: a spicy tomato sauce (ancho & chipotle pepper, smoked paprika) mixed with leftover basmati rice.

The chiles rellenos were stuffed with a mix of red onion, garlic, Mexican oregano, salt, pepper, pinto & black beans and cheddar Daiya and then put in the oven for 10 minutes @ 350F to heat everything through while making the quesadillas on the griddle.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Blini & Caviar

Dinner 1/01

Blini & Caviar

How was your New Year Day?

I spent part of mine making blini (from Veganomicon) and seaweed caviar, then drinking (more) cava.

2011 is off to a good start. ;)