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