Friday, March 20, 2015

Eight Days in Umbria, Italy - 2015

It seems that virtually everyone has been to Italy, loved the people and the food.  So is there anything new to say?  
Well, Umbria Italy exceeded all my expectations in terms of the food, and the people.
We had great good fortune in finding:
 1) Louisa and Francesco, who live what they believe and are such a cogent example of living in harmony with the earth and her creatures.
 2) A guide as intelligent, warm hearted and wise as Anna Maria Madaffari, so well versed in the history of the region and its wines.
 3) And lucky to have Sabrina Varani film us while in Orvieto, and at dinner at Cimbolello, where she was a verbal liaison (otherwise known as a translator) between the five of us and Francesco and Louisa.

 For more specifics: I studied eleven guidebooks or travel books, and as many online commentaries as possible about Umbria, the green heart of Italy, where we went. I suspect it was different from Rome, Milan, Venice, etc. There was only one large-ish city, Perugia, and we skipped it. Umbria is the center of environmentally oriented Italians, and we saw multitudes of solar panels together with olive groves
and  perfectly geometrically arranged grape vines.

 We visited a number of what were once little city-states:  communities built on small mountains and fortified by stone walls, to protect against attack by the next door city state. Many of these towns have histories that date back to the Etruscans.                                                                                                                                
The interior streets are narrow alleys, lined with potted cyclamen and primroses.


We stayed just outside one of these towns -Citta della Pieve. We visited Montefalco, Orvieto, Gubbio, and most beautiful of all, Spello. We also went to Siena in Tuscany.
  We were very fortunate on three counts. First, we somewhat randomly picked an “agroturismo” farm to stay in on the basis of a photo on Airbnb  of an oval stone fireplace in a living room/kitchen.
                         And so we happened on “Cimbolello”,

owned by Louisa and Francesco,   

vegetarians, who have devoted their lives to living sustainably, and in relation to their six sheep, two dogs and small flock of chickens. They are serious about their sheep milk cheese. (Pecorino), and we feasted on fresh ricotta and tasted older cheeses.
The oldest of the sheep is Ermione, the small black one is Nerina. There is Saltatrice (always jumping), Impassite (crazy), Daisy, Camilla, and the baby, Camillina. There is also the ram, Centro Euro (he was too expensive!)

Louisa and Francesco have built everything from scratch, including the outdoor ovens.
                                                                          Their storage built for the aging cheeses.

As well as making their own limoncello, olive oil and wine in an immaculate kitchen and hand-built storage cellar, oils from rosemary and lavender. Passionate, committed people.

 Second, one of my on-line forays connected me to Anna Maria Madaffari ,

a sommelier who was our guide for the first two days of our trip.  She celebrated her 34th birthday on February 24 (the day before I celebrated my 80th). She was a delight, a fountain of knowledge who never stopped talking as she wove her way through Umbria and Tuscany. She was often witty and never boring. We learned a lot about wine from her, and with her.
Third, we had the good luck to meet Sabrina Varani,
an Italian Filmmaker, who spent two days with us, translating in between wielding her camera. Again the warmth and intelligence of our interactions far exceeded what we experience with strangers at home or in other countries.  Why? Is it the Italian nature? 
We wanted to learn more about Brunello wines and Anna took us to two Brunello vineyards in Tuscany. One was called Prime Donne (First Women). The vintner has hired women
to work for her, and she honors a woman of consequence each year. This past year an astrophysicist.
Second, Poggio Rubino was a beautiful site, owned by a young couple. The woman’s mother, Roberta cooked us lunch. Most interesting to me were three differently-aged pecorino cheeses, served with local honey, to taste with the Brunello wines. There was panzanella, a puree of stale bread and tomatoes, and an olive oil cake with a syrupy reduction of the Brunello wines. All lovely.

We also went to the Petricaia vineyard in Montefalco (Umbria) to taste wines made from the Sagrantino grape, and when we visited Orvieto, we drank the Orvieto Classico (a blend) and a pure Grechetto that we really enjoyed.

Each little town had something special about it. Beautifully decorated pottery in Deruta, Gubbio and Orvieto, each its own particular style. White truffles with house made pasta or with gnocchi at Taverna del Lupo in Gubbio. Wow! Delicious! Amazing artichokes in Siena at Tratoria San Giuseppe. When we ordered seconds, the waiter told us how to make them: the trimmed hearts are soaked overnight in lemon water, then drained and braised slowly in olive oil the next day and finally finished under the grill.

Orvieto has the most amazing cathedral (The Duomo di Orvieto),  a great wedding cake of decorated tiles and bronze statues, built over a period of 400 years.
The door handles were huge, very sexy female angels.

Just like in Siena, the narrow streets surrounding the cathedral (in Siena, the Compo) were full of small shops displaying artisan ware.  In Orvieto; it was olive wood kitchen tools and sunflower pottery.
In Siena, there was a truffle store

that cost me a lot of euros!  
In Citta della Pieve, it was little packets of locally grown saffron, and in Spello, it was a shop that carried the castelluccio lentils, the almost extinct Risina beans, and a variety of chick peas called cicerchia.                                  

We ate at ten restaurants during our eight days in Italy.
The first was Il Margutta, in Rome;
 right after  we got off the plane. An all vegetarian restaurant which features a buffet for lunch, we feasted on many dishes, including mashed chickpea and potato deep fried balls in a thin pesto, sautéed artichokes with mint, and cabbage salad. Lunch was 18 euros including a glass of wine.

In Deruta, Umbria, after our shopping spree at the Mojolica pottery factory, Ubaldo Grazia,
 Anna took us to L’Antica Forziere, with a spacious lovely dining room,
run by three brothers, twins in the kitchen!  We had house made pasta tinted with beets (it looked like streaks of ham) in a leek and garlic sauce, very finely cut linguini with black truffles, a delicious risotto, and a
gorgeous dessert platter decorated with spun sugar.

The next day, after our lunch at Poggio Rubino, we went to Citta della Pieve (our farm where we stayed was about twenty minutes away) for dinner at Zeffrano,
a restaurant named for the saffron grown locally. Again, a spacious dining room and a waiter who had neither a snippy attitude nor a servant’s false humility, but who felt like an equal, a possible friend!  We ate another risotto, this time scented with saffron, a finely cut raw artichoke salad, and a “millefoile” of cabbage leaves rolled around vegetables and then braised. 20 Euros per person.

In Gubbio, we ate at Taverna del Lupo,

feasting on white truffles over house made pasta

and gnocchi.                                      Another beautiful, spacious restaurant.
Siena, in Tuscany, was busier with folks than the Umbrian towns. 

We ate at Taverna San Giuseppe,

where we had the aforementioned olive oil stewed artichokes, with dessert, a pear simmered in Brunello wine served with an excellent, not very sweet gelato.

In the evening we went to Chiusi, a town in Tuscany, just over the border from Citta della Pieve. And ate at La Solita Zuppa, justly known for their soups:  artichoke potato, and winter squash.  We had house made pici,  ( a very simple small pasta) with a spicy tomato sauce, and a mixed vegetable cake with walnuts.
Orvieto was another busy city. After looking at the fabulous Duomo de Orvieto and buying olive wood spoons, we ate lunch at  del Moro Arone, where we had a pecorino mousse with fava bean purée, spinach polpette (“meat balls”)
and the most delicious soup of the week, porcini and potato.


                                                 the owner, gave us the recipe, and we are serving at Bloodroot to everyone’s  delight.

On our second to last day in Italy, we went to Spello. We visited a olive oil enoteca.
It did not seem to be a touristy town, but was quite beautiful, a jewel.

     As usual we got lost looking for La Bastiglia,
the hotel in which we planned to have lunch. Again a lovely, gracious space. We ate house made ribbon pasta with finely cut artichokes and a puree of fava beans.  There was a delicious lentil and bean soup, a bottle of Orvieto Classico, and a gelato lightly scented with cinnamon.  We saw the cook – Andrea,
who claimed he was not the chef, his uncle is, but since his uncle was away, he had made our lunch, and was it ok?    Yes, it was wonderful.

On our last day in Italy we went to a restaurant that had caused a lot of prior anxiety.  Before we went, I worried about making the supposedly essential reservations. We enlisted the help of our friend, Justin Galletti, who spends time in Italy, and learned that 2 or 3 of my best choices were closed in February. Then there was the expensive, 2-Michelin Star place. When Justin called and asked if they had vegetarian options, the answer was that they had a single, prix-fixe menu, 90 euros per person, with no vegetarian choices. However they would make us a special vegetarian menu at the same prix-fixe price if we desired.  I debated and worried about it all being too fancy (as well as too expensive) and finally decided, oh well,  80th birthday and all…..and so I said yes.  It was too scary to attempt driving the mountain roads at night for which our reservation was scheduled, and Anna helped us change it to lunch. On our drive we got quite lost (went up a mountain and down) but got there at last. We were the only lunch guests. Three Mercedes parked in front with us.
Well Vissani was everything I could have wished for if I had been optimistic, but since I was pessimistic, it was astounding!  Beautiful, with many rooms, on the edge of a lake. We were seated at a round table in a corner,
and each length of the wall held large windows with a view of the “L"
shaped kitchen, with 16 chefs preparing our meal (several were women). One part of the “L” was for making breads and pastries. The other “L” produced the rest.
 We were each given a hand-written menu of the meal prepared especially for us, but it was incomplete as there were three amuse bouche, and breads – a different little roll or biscuit with each course, and exquisite butter.  Three wines accompanied the food – one at a time, in different shaped wine glasses.  There was a Lalique glass figurine of a winged woman
centered on our table, the Hermes designed plates changed often. What to say. It all sounds extreme and unnecessary, but there was delight, and our two waiters were so not-stuffy, so warm and genuinely friendly that we couldn’t help but enjoy it all. I told them that I was in Italy for my 80th birthday, so they whipped up a Cassata Siciliana to go with dessert, and turned off the lights, and sang. 

Afterwards, we were escorted to the long narrow room overlooking the lake, with a lit fire place at the end, for coffee. Chairs were deep and comfortable.
We felt like we could stay forever. But Roberto wanted to show us the now empty kitchen, and so we went in to see beautiful marble tables and counters throughout, copper pots and pans and ramekins - a gorgeous array.

Touring the Vassani kitchen with Roberto
No question that it was worth it, a thoroughly grand experience.

I had thought that after a week of it that I would tire of the Umbrian cuisine. Well I didn’t, but the departures at Vissani were wonderful also, and very Italian – some from  Sardinia.  At different seasons they get wine from different parts of Italy. Today Greco in Calabria. The biggest full wine was Nero de Calabria. It was raining as we were leaving and Roberto ran out to get our car for us.  There was no feeling of servant/service. It felt like friendship, and of course there was talk of several of them coming to visit us.
The Vissani menu began with the Amuse bouche:  a tiny ratatouille, a small polenta with roasted yellow tomatoes, and 2 very small artichokes, one raw and one deep fried.
Sous vide egg with asparagus and yellow tomato caviar.
Lentil soup poured over chilled Montessio cheese with black truffles.
Black kale with parmesan  and bright green kale puree “prezzimolo”.
Fregola – tiny pasta from Sicily with  pecorino and tomato ice cream, blackberry puree around the ice cream.
And many desserts!


Thursday, July 3, 2014


I am constantly annoyed by peoples’ efforts to put me in a labeled noun box.  What is wrong with saying to me or to me and my friends “you”?   It works singular or plural.

Worst is “you guys”.  It has become a popular tic, and people who refer to us this way don’t use it only once, but in every sentence.   Even when we say we are not guys (similar to or almost as good as men),* they still can’t stop the tic, even when they try.  

But I don’t like “ladies” as an alternative tic either.  To me, lady has always connoted propriety of upper class with a faint hint of contempt, and I don’t think I have ever been a lady, anyway.  A recent restaurant visit had the waitress incessantly asking: “Ladies, another drink?  How is everything, ladies?”
We are women.  We often tell the speaker that - and if they find that word impossible or terrifying to use (and many do), they could just leave off the noun and say "you".

*we don’t appreciate the comparison, especially since so many male bad behaviors are dismissed as “a guy thing”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Food Vacation in Chicago.

I love going to restaurants, especially ethnic, to taste what other cooks do with vegetables and grains. If they don’t feature several vegetarian dishes, I don’t go there.
I especially like to check out the cuisines that I am less familiar with – like all the Asian possibilities: Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese or Indian.   There always seems to be something vegetarian or which can be made vegetarian.  Of course another mother lode of vegetarian treats occurs in the Mid-East, with similar but distinctly different cuisines from Greece, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey.  Morocco and Ethiopia hold treasures to taste and learn about.   And so when I hear about, for instance, a new Thai restaurant opening in Bridgeport, I try it out of course. I am particularly interested in the places opened by recent immigrants, who are cooking for others in their own community, and not catering to an American palate.
Around here examples are the new Ruuthai’s Kitchen (Thai) on Beechwood Ave in Bridgeport, Pho Saigon (Vietnamese) in Bridgeport, Navaratna (Indian) in Stamford, Jolo’s Kitchen (Rastafarian) in New Rochelle, N.Y., and Hajime (Japanese) in Harrison, N.Y. which boasts a significant Japanese population.

So it should not be surprising that our vacations are always intensive food/restaurant hunts. We research the city to which we are headed and try to find really good vegetarian food. This was true of Oaxaca, Mexico; Montreal and Vancouver, Canada; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Istanbul, Turkey; Austin, Texas; and this year, Chicago, Illinois.
I had read Windy City by Scott Simon some years ago and was interested in the city’s ethnic neighborhoods.  We were told, “…don’t go in February”, but that’s when we close Bloodroot, and can travel.

Guide books provided me with a list of restaurants; the internet allowed me to peruse each one’s menu. And so choices were made.
We knew we wanted to go to Girl and The Goat Restaurant, where we had a great waitress, Allison.  We enjoyed the Kohlrabi salad and had onion bread with tarragon butter and sweet pepper confit. We went to Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo and his Frontera Grill. There were many highly rated Mexican style restaurants in Chicago – who knew? One puzzled me: Bien Trucha is an hour’s drive out of the city to the town of Geneva.  Zagat gave Bien a 29 for food quality, a very high rating.  Was it worth going so far? Yes! The food was perfect; Appetizers were a row of small tacos filled with vegetables. A salad of arugula with jicama and candied pecans. Guacamole with pomegranate seeds, and a delicious corn cake soaked in syrup for dessert.

The Northeast corner of Chicago (Andersonville) boasts a superb Vietnamese restaurant, Tank Noodle, where the kitchen omitted the meats from their dishes for us without a problem or loss of flavor. 

A simple stir-fry of chives, scallions and mung bean sprouts came in a delicious sauce, with sticky rice, and Banh Xeo crepes and summer rolls were better than those we tried in other Vietnamese restaurants here or elsewhere.  In another nearby neighborhood, we had lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant, Ras Dashen, where there were salads and other vegetable combinations besides the

 pulse purees, on a beautiful  Injera platter. Like everywhere else in Chicago, we were pleased to be treated in such a friendly manner as we were at Ras Dashen and Tank Noodle.  Food at Naha, an elegant “New American” restaurant with Mediterranean roots pleased us with appetizers of a wild mushroom pureed soup, and handmade pasta Strozzapreti.

Our terrific waiter Tiago, at Topolobampo told us to go to Lula Café in Logan Square, in the northwest corner of the city, and indeed the food was up to his praise. We had a wonderful granola, a farro casserole, and a spinach salad.

I was delighted to meet and talk with young men like
 Jason Hammel at Lula Café 
 and Rodrigo Cano from Bien Trucha, both with no formal culinary training, but who each had their own vision of what good food should taste like, and were able to implement this vision.
It was impressive how much our waitress, Allison, at Girl and The Goat, admired Stephanie Izard, the owner/chef. And how much the staff at Topo/Frontera appreciated Rick Bayless, who takes a group of 24 of them to Mexico each year.  I took a tour of the Topolobampo kitchen with Andy, the head chef, who made it clear that sharing know-how is important to them. Rick Bayless is constantly stretching to explore origins of Mexican food and to interpret it to match American ingredient availability.
Taxim served upscale Greek food, delicious, but too crowded and noisy for our comfort.
It took a lot of searching to find a Polish restaurant for pierogi. The Polish community seems to have left the city. Still, the pierogi and potato pancakes we found at Podhalanka were very good.

We stayed in the Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen (once Czechoslovakian) and were grateful for the Oaxacan Mexican coffee at Nuovo Leon on our street. (We were disappointed with the coffee served elsewhere.)
On Sunday, we had a lovely brunch at Nightwood, in our Pilsen neighborhood. Another “new American” restaurant owned by Jason Hammel, the owner of Lula Café.  A lovely comfortable space with an open kitchen.
We were surprised at the condition of the streets. City officials don’t seem to believe in plowing after snowstorms and the number of potholes would rival those of a third world country.
But the skyline!
I never imagined skyscrapers could be so exciting and beautiful. I have always loved going to NYC and coming off the Cross Bronx expressway onto the Westside Highway, to see the Jersey side Palisades. But after traveling along Lakeshore Drive by Lake Michigan, our homecoming trip to NYC paled in comparison!

And the museums. Truly wonderful museums. The Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium are all situated near each other on the edge of the lake.  All are beautifully designed and impressive in their politics.  At the Art Institute, I surprised myself by becoming tearful when seeing an original of
Monet’s Water Lilies.                                                                                                                                            

Respect was demanded for peoples’ cultural differences at the Field Museum;

 at the Shedd Aquarium… was for us to save ecosystems by eating less meat.
In our Pilsen neighborhood, the Mexican Museum was smaller, but also well done.

Other pleasant surprises – Andersonville, with Tweet for breakfast, a craft galleria, a Swedish bakery, a feminist bookstore: Women and Children First whose owners are retiring, However, there is much interest in purchasing it so it will surely continue.

On Logan Square, where Lula Café is, City Lit
 is another woman owned bookstore which benefits from the weekend lines outside Lula. They are now carrying our cookbooks.

My daughter, Sabrina, asked what I learned that I could bring back to Bloodroot. When I reflected on this I realized that the most exciting ideas were inspired by the most unpretentious restaurants. The Polish restaurant that served us pierogi used a filling of mashed potato, dried porcini bits and sauerkraut. The too-noisy, too-crowded Greek restaurant used the most delicious olive oil we had ever tasted – from single olive variety, Koroneiki. (We found some here at Steve’s Market in Norwalk.) One of our least favorite restaurants, Urban Belly offered a squeeze bottle, which contained a combination of thick soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Delicious! Unfortunately, the food needed a lot of help and there was very little choice for vegetarians

I’d love to be able to duplicate Frontera Grill’s banana leaf tamales, served with rajas. And we would dearly like to find (or make) better tortillas. We will see what other inspiration makes itself known from our experience in vibrant Chicago. 






Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Secret Recipes

I am always delighted when a diner at Bloodroot tries a new dish which is not in our cookbooks, and would like to make it at home. Sometimes it is printed in one of our calendars, and I fetch that copy from the kitchen for them to photograph.

 I consider it an honor for someone to want to reproduce what we are doing.  Of course I want them to!  Perhaps they will figure out some new seasoning or procedure and come back and tell me. Sometimes they bring one of their own treasured recipes---it is a win-win situation.  At Bloodroot, our purpose is to serve the very best vegetarian food, but that's impossible.  I can update a recipe and make it better, but surely someone else, or one of us can make it better again. There is never best! There can always be improvement, and isn't that wonderful?

So you can imagine how I feel about restaurants, particularly vegetarian or health restaurants, refusing to share their secrets. What a poverty of spirit, to think that once a recipe is known, it will be a disaster.  Like what? The customer will open her own place and take away all this restaurant's diners? Or will she no longer patronize the stingy restaurant since she can reproduce her favorite dish at home? How ridiculous!  And how sad.

It has always seemed to me that the essence of what we do is to further the making of life (and dining) better for us all. Sharing information is how to do it. This is particularly true for new vegans, or even for folks like me, who have made vegan desserts and entrees for 37 years and am now vastly broadening my horizons with recipes for vegan cheese and creams, that one of my customers, Florrie, introduced to me. I want everyone else to know how to do this, if they want to.

Usually I can figure out what is in most dishes, but sometimes I can't and I ask. 
The better restaurant chefs tell me. Sometimes I troll the internet, and sometimes I think, why bother.  Keep your secrets, I prefer to share mine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cooking Vegetables in Olive Oil

This Summer I cooked a lot of my home grown vegetables in olive oil.  I would pick a few thin, unpeeled Asian eggplants and slice them diagonally about one fourth inch thick and then saute them in a frying pan over low heat in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  I turned them with a fork until lightly browned.  They were then salted and peppered and removed to a dish.  Next I cut yellow squash - Zephyr is my favorite - and slowly cooked them the same way.  They can be eaten hot, or refrigerated and therefore cold, or at  room temperature.  Candy should taste this good!

This Summer I grew some okra.  I tried breading them with cornmeal and frying them, but the crust kept falling off, so I next tried frying the whole pods just like the squash and eggplant, turning them over low heat until a little brown.  So much better!  They can be dipped in salsa, if you like.

Finally, there's greenbeans.  I have never liked them much, but one must make the best of what grows easiest in the garden.  Some years ago one of our workers gave us her Lebanese grandmother's recipe for greenbeans and it is in our cookbook, Vol. I on p.266.  That recipe calls for gently frying a sliced onion in olive oil until lightly caramelized, and then adding the cut up beans together with a pinch of cinnamon and a half teaspoon each of allspice and nutmeg.  Cover the pan and stew until the bean are tender and 'buttery'.  Then at the end add salt and pepper and diced tomatoes.  If you add the tomatoes with the beans, they will not soften as well.  This is so good that I decided to try other seasonings - such as tarragon and dill (both added at the end of cooking).  The important thing is NO water.  Cook these babies in oil alone.  They will be more delicious than you can imagine!

This technique is ideal for vegetables produced in a small home garden.  It is a typically middle eastern technique.  Tamari may be substituted for the salt, and sesame seeds may be added.

Simple.  Perfect. Great snack food. Best with the vegetables grown right there at home!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vegan Dinners

As promised in my last blog, this one is about how to think about main courses for dinner.

So what does a vegan do for dinner besides buy a soy product that mimics meat,  like Tofurky, Boca burgers, or Tofu Pups?

Our perspective has been to look to the past, to explore what our ancestors ate when they had no meat, couldn't afford it, or didn't choose it.  It seems that all over the world humans nourished themselves with some combination of grains and pulses (meaning beans or lentils).  Sometimes in the same dish, once thought essential for good nutrition but now no longer deemed necessary. They can be eaten separately, if need be.

Whether in Latin America where combinations of pinto beans, black beans or many other varieties of beans (see Steve Sando's Rancho Gordo's remarkable collection) accompany corn tortillas or rice........or in the Mid East where chick peas, Greek gigande beans, and  fava beans are served with bulgar or pita bread, or India where the pulses: lentils and beans in amazing variety are cooked into gravies called dahls,  and served with Basmati rice or wheat chapatis or naan. The combinations are endless.

In Asia and Indonesia it seems that the soy bean is used as cheese (tofu) or milk or constructed in age old ways to resemble meat, to satisfy Buddhists.  We are not sorry to use soy in its marvelous diversity.  However we have many other options to entice us as well.

It is hard to understand why the pulse/grain combination is so satisfying.  The recipe that follows, for Syrian Mjeddrah (lentils and rice) is but one example of dishes that feel remarkably like comfort food.  This one, now on the menu at Bloodroot, doesn't look fancy, but tastes better as you eat it, and even better the next day.  The Bible contemptuously calls it "a mess of potage", the one for which Essau sold his birthright.  When you taste it,  you may understand why he craved it so much.  It is rich and soothing.  Try it and see.  Very easy to make, it requires one pot and one frying pan.  What you must do is stir a lot of onions in a lot of olive for 15-20 minutes.  This is essential for the rich, sweet taste.  I have had many versions of this dish with inadequate oil and onions, and it is not worth eating.  We serve it every Summer at Bloodroot, with green beans and tomatoes, an olive-walnut condiment, and pita bread.

We do have many variations on the grain-pulse combination: Brazilian feijoada (black beans over rice) and Haitian Mais Moulin Avec Pois, a very spicy corn polenta with red beans.  One of our favorite soups is Mulligatawny, a red lentil puree to which we add rice.

Middle Eastern pilafs are wonderful meals in themselves.  Any vegetable on the side makes it complete.  We have been exploring Persian pilafs made best with a crusty bottom, such as potato slices, Turkish pilafs with chick peas, pistachios, and apricots.  There is Plov from Uzbekistan cooked with chick peas and a whole head of garlic.  Bibimbap is Korean "garnished rice" made delicious with sauteed vegetables and spicy with kim chee.

We have not even scratched the surface, but let's talk about easy.  Try Mjeddrah (see below), the mulligatawny, and a simple and delicious Mexican recipe for pinto beans, to eat with corn tortillas.

If you have our cookbooks, you may know that in the beginning of Volume I, the vegetarian book, we list a cooking class.  At the end is a selection of easy ethnic recipes for dinner, such as a simple Indian dinner, a Thai coconut milk dish with vegetables, and Ratatouille Nicoise--a French late summer vegetable mix to eat over brown rice.  These are all vegan, and are in the vegetarian book partly because of lack of room in the vegan book, but more importantly because we want folks to realize how delicious and easy vegan cooking can be.  A slow process of seduction, we hope!

It is important to note that easy does not mean without care.  Just as you wouldn't buy inferior or spoilt meats and expect them to taste good, you will have to hunt out the stores that sell dried beans often enough so that they will cook to softness.  The packages on the shelves for years wont be good.  You must soak them overnight.  Cooking them in a clay pot will make them heavenly.  You need to take time to rub skins off of chick peas after soaking to get best texture, and you must saute vegetables in these recipes long enough for them to caramelize a little.  After all, we want these dishes to taste wonderful.  Remember:beans or chick peas from a can never will.

More to come next time--perhaps about different kinds of rice, maybe about ice creams!  So many riches.....

Mid East Lentils and Rice

1.  In a pot simmer 2 cups of french lentils in 3 1/2 cups of water for fifteen minutes.

2. Add 1 cup of long grain rice and 1 cup of water and stir.  Simmer for another fifteen minutes.

3. Meanwhile, thinly slice 2 large spanish onions and turn into a large frying pan,  Saute the onions in 1 full cup of good olive for about fifteen minutes, stirring frequently.  Once they turn golden and begin to caramelize, add them to the lentils together with  1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

4. Continue cooking the mixture for another fifteen minutes, or until the mix tastes done.  Correct seasoning.  It is likely to need more salt.  Serves four to six.  Refrigerate leftovers, and reheat gently.

Pinto Bean Chili

1. Soak 3 cups pinto beans overnight in water to cover with 2 teaspoons salt.  Next day cook, preferably in an olla de barro (clay pot), until tender, adding water as needed.

2. Pull off stems and shake seeds out of 3 dried guajillo chilies.  Peel 3 cloves garlic.  Cover with water in a small pot and boil 1 minute.  Drain.

3. Make a broth using 1 tablespoon Seitenbacher vegetarian broth powder in 2 cups hot water and add one half cup of this to a blender.  Use a mortar and pestle to crush one half teaspoon cumin seeds and 4 whole peppercorns.  Add to blender with chilies and garlic.  (We sell the Seitenbacher at Bloodroot.  It may be omitted from the recipe and plain water used.  But no substitutions for the chilies will give the same results.)  Puree.  Add 3/4 cup more broth liquid and 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder and blend.

4. Heat 3 tablespoons coconut oil in a skillet.  Add beans with their remaining liquid and mash roughly.  Add chili sauce and salt if necessary.  Cook until beans are thick enough to "plop" off the spoon.  Serve with warm tortillas.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Vegan, Taking It Slow!

Lately we have had a lot of newcomers to Bloodroot asking for vegan food.  We are very pleased with this new trend!  Whether for environmental/political reasons or for health - we have always tried to minimize our dependency on animal products.  After 35 years, I think we have become quite proficient in finding the best vegan dishes in ethnic cuisines.  We are able to recognize which recipes would not be hurt by switching butter to grape seed or olive oil, and which could exchange coconut milk for cow's milk or cream, and still expect the flavor to be familiar and delicious. But we also have folks who come in and say that they once tried to be vegan, but found it too hard to do.

So this blog is about how to make it easy.  First, you don't have to decide to be entirely vegan all the time, right away.  You first have to build a repertoire of things to eat. Don't just go buy vegan junk food.  Don't figure you will simply switch tofu for meat.  Neither of these strategies will be any good nutritionally and will surely disappoint your taste buds.  You will need a pantry with appropriate foods.  I am often shocked by how much coconut milk and coconut oil I use, forgetting that there were always pounds of butter in the freezer and not only milk, but heavy cream and half & half always in the refrigerator, before I tried to make most of our food vegan.

I've discovered that there are two kinds of coconut oil.  I don't use the ones labeled "natural" or virgin.  They smell too much like hair pomade or suntan lotion.  We use Omega organic coconut oil.  It is a clear odorless liquid in Summer, and of a white cold cream consistency in Winter.  It is always kept at room temperature.  (We sell containers of it at Bloodroot)  We make pie crust and scones and cookies of it, and sometimes we saute with it.

How about beginning to try vegan by making a cake?  A really delicious cake!  Below are two recipes for cake.  Our chocolate "devastation" cake has been on our menu for years.  We have made whole cakes for birthdays and weddings.  It is a favorite, and it can be whipped up in 5 minutes, once you have really good cocoa and chocolate (we use Valrhona) and sourdough starter.  The latter is available from us (free), especially on Sundays, when we use it to make sourdough pancakes. Or there is a recipe for how to make your own on p.418 of our cookbook, The Best Of Bloodroot  Vol. II or on p.342 of The Best Of Bloodroot Vol.I.

The orange hazelnut cake is made much like a traditional cake.  It tastes wonderful.  You don't have to tell anyone that either cake is vegan.  These cakes will make your reputation as a baker!  Next time we will get to a few main dishes, and later, ice creams.

Sourdough Chocolate "Devastation"  Cake

A very easy and delicious vegan cake. You will need good quality unsweetened cocoa to make it.

1. Lightly oil two 9˝ cake pans. Preheat oven to 325°F.

2. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl: ¾ cup unsweetened good quality cocoa powder*, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups unbleached white flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, ¾ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons instant grain coffee**, and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Stir together with a dry whisk.

3. Combine wet ingredients in another bowl: 1 cup thick sourdough starter, 2¼ cups water, 2 tablespoons vinegar, ¾ cup grapeseed oil, and 1½ teaspoons vanilla. Stir well with a whisk.

4. Combine wet and dry mixtures with as few strokes as possible. Some lumps are not a problem. Turn into pans immediately and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove and cool on racks.

*Such as Vahlrona
**Your favorite kind will do

Chocolate Frosting

This frosting sets up firm and protects the cake from becoming dry. Because of this, this cake will stay fresh about five days in the refrigerator if covered with plastic wrap. From Mary Préjean.

Note: when making the above 2-layer devastation cake, double this frosting recipe.

1. Chop good quality semi-sweet chocolate* to measure 1 cup. Combine with 1 teaspoon vanilla, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, ¼ cup grapeseed oil, and 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder*. Place over lowest heat or melt in double boiler (a pan of simmering water with a heatproof bowl set over it).
Don’t stir until chocolate is entirely melted. Alternatively, the pot of frosting mixture may be put in a warm place, such as on top of the stove, while the cake bakes.

Once the chocolate melts, stir gently with a spoon until mixture thickens slightly. Frosting will be soft but will thicken as you stir it.

2. When cakes and frosting are cool, spread frosting over cake.

Makes enough for one 9" cake
*Such as Vahlrona

Orange Hazelnut Cake

1. Lightly toast 1 cup hazelnuts at 300°F. Rub skins off with a towel. Oil two 9˝ cake pans and line with waxed paper rounds. Heat oven to 350°F.

2. Turn nuts into a processor and pulverize together with 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder,
1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons potato starch. Turn out into a bowl. Add 3½ cups all-purpose flour and stir together with a dry whisk. Set aside.

3. In mixer, use flat beater to cream 2/3 cup firm coconut oil (chill if necessary) with scant 1 cup sugar. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier and 1 teaspoon orange oil (or 1 tablespoon orange zest). Add 1/3 cup flax seed eggs* (see The Best of Bloodroot Volume Two Vegan Recipes glossary) and 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract.

4. Measure 2 cups orange juice and ½ cup water. Alternately add dry ingredients and liquid to mixer, beginning and ending with flour mix. Don’t overbeat. Turn into prepared pans and bake until tops are evenly brown. Cool cakes on racks five minutes; turn out onto racks and let cool entirely before frosting.

*Flax seed “eggs”: Soak ¼ cup flax seeds in ¾ cup hot tap water in a blender for 15 minutes. Turn machine on and blend until quite thick and most seeds are crushed. It will look like grey caviar. Store these “eggs” covered in the refrigerator. They will keep 2 to 3 weeks. Use a rounded tablespoon to replace 1 egg in cornbreads or cakes.


 Coconut oil must be firm, so refrigerate 2 cups of it if this cake is being made in the summer. Turn firm coconut oil into mixer, and using the flat beater, beat well.  Sift 2 cups of confectioners sugar into mixer and beat well for at least 3 minutes.  Add a few drops of orange oil and a splash of vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  Finally add 2 tablespoons of the thick top from a can of coconut milk and beat again.  This makes a lovely frosting.

makes enough for one 9" cake