Sunday, August 19, 2012

Going Greek

Accidental Vegan Taramasalata Dip

For the past few months I have been living in a very Greek part of town. Migrating to this side of the city was a wildcard move centered mostly around a great deal on a little house for me and my partner. I would stop through this neck of the woods for an annual festival but that's about all and honestly could have avoided that altogether as well as it tended to be overcrowded and somewhat disappointing food-wise. All that being said, I now love it here. This is one of the only neighborhoods I have inhabited that I race to return to at the end of the daily grind. The neighborhood is bustling in a great way. People are friendly, the shops are nice and there are hidden green spaces around every corner. It may be many years before I move away, if I move away at all.

In honor of my hood I am going to pay vegan homage to a classic Greek appetizer -- taramasalata. Before becoming vegetarian, fish was one of my favorite things to eat, particularly fish mousse and taramasalata -- a cold Greek dip made from potatoes, lemon, garlic and cod roe. The creamy pale pink masterpiece may sound a bit scary to fish-o-phobes, but trust me -- it is a salty, garlicky, smooth whipped scoop of heaven. Traditionally it is served with toasted pitta bread and a drizzle of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. 

My parents have always enjoyed Greek dishes and would frequent the Greek restaurant in their neighborhood for lunch weekly. My mother always ordered taramasalata and was the first person to introduce me to it. It was love at first nibble.

I have been in a bit of a food rut for the past few months. I attribute this lack of inspiration to exhaustion. I am planning my wedding in a very short span of time and also have a full time job that spills over into my off-work hours often. When I get home, making something new is the last thing on my mind. When I want something healthy, inexpensive and fast, I turn on my food processor and make a dip -- usually a bean dip. I have been trying to include more lentils in my diet because they are incredibly good for you, dirt cheap and easy to digest if you soak them in advance. It has taken me years to convince myself that soaking beans in advance is not too much trouble. Now that I'm sure of this, I cannot stop myself from soaking up a steady supply for dips and salads. For the past two weeks I have been hooked on black lentils because of their amazing texture and versatility. They are far more pebbly than the average lentil and absolutely beautiful in my opinion. I have been using them in a mayonaise based salad that I have become addicted to. Today I bought three colors to shake things up -- Red lentils, Golden lentils and Black lentils. I soaked a large serving mixed together and decided to use half of them in a dip. Little did I know I was on the way to a taramasalata reinvention. Combined with the ingredients below, the lentils gave the dip great body and texture. The dip is very healthy and fairly low in fat. Though not quite the color of taramasalata, the vibrant pink color of the lentil dip is quite lovely. I hope you give it a try.

Vegan Taramasalata

1 1/4 cup cooked lentils ( I used a mix of organic golden, red and black lentils)
1 tsp liquid from a jar of capers
2 capers
Juice of 1/2 small organic lemon
1 tbsp kelp flakes
dash of course sea salt
1-2 tbsp vegan mayonaise (I like to use soy-free Veganaise)
1-2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 dash of Cinnamon
2 basil leaves
1 ice cube of fresh beet juice (I freeze beet juice in an ice cube tray for adding great color to vegan ice cream and other things like smoothies)
2 large cloves of garlic
1/4 small red or white onion ( I used white because I had no red)
2 tbsp water
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Blend all ingredients on high in a food processor or high speed blender. Ensure all ingredients are evenly blended. Spoon out into a serving dish. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of cayenne or paprika. Serve immediately or chill and serve later with toasted and oiled pitta or vegetable crudites.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dreamy food

Three nights ago I dreamt of pancakes. When I woke up, I knew I had to have them. But I haven't eaten pancakes for years, let alone made them. I knew I needed to process the idea further. I needed to invent a pancake that both satisfied my craving and dodged my fears of sugar overload and white breadiness. I did it.

Nostalgia in a pan

The first priority on my pancake agenda was to select a suitable flour. Anyone who reads my blog may have noticed that I tend to avoid flours, even the so-called "healthy" ones (whole wheat, spelt etc) because no matter how virtuous, they seem to leave me with a pit in the stomach feeling, not to mention the lethargy. I am more gluten free every week, so why not a good gluten free flour? I haven't had the most stunning success with rice flours in baking. Oat flours work well but leave me a little queasy. Millet flour is great but expensive. So I took a gander at Bob's All Purpose Gluten Free Baking Flour. I was delighted to see no rice or oat ingredients, no buckwheat or quinoa. Instead I saw bean flours, tapioca and potato starch and no corn starch. We had a winner.

I knew that if I was going to make pancakes, they were going to be a little decadent. It is nearly Valentine's Day afterall! So chocolate was a necessary addition. And since I prefer less sweet pancakes, little to no sugar was also key. Banana seemed a fitting substitute. Banana chocolate chip...seemed like a promising start.

My father used to make the most amazing pancakes -- mostly white flour, milk, egg and oil. Not sweet and not super fluffy like American style pancakes. His were silver dollar style and wonderful. I would eat them with my hands, ripping them up to dip into maple syrup so they didn't get soggy. I knew that I wanted a pancake of that variety without the white flour and milk. Since I had banana and chocolate in mind, I naturslly turned to coconut milk, using the light variety which has the same consistency as 2% milk.

I had planned to make these on Sunday morning, in honor of my dad's habit, but mentioned the idea to my boyfriend on Saturday. He was fairly excited so I made them that day. They were not too sweet, not too fluffy, chocolatey, moist with a crisp exterior -- just like my dad's.

Revising the classic

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes
Makes 4 hand-sized 1/2" pancakes

1 heaping cup Bob's Redmill All Purpose GF Flour
1 tbsp Ghirardelli Cocoa powder
2 tbsps wild brown millet flour
1 tsp organic baking powder
2 turns of a salt mill (sea salt)
1  tsp organic cinammon
1 capful real vanilla extract
2 tbsps organic maple syrup
2 tbsps organic canola oil
1 small can organic light coconut milk (160ml)
1 egg
4 handfuls chcocolate chips
1 frozen banana (sliced thinly)

Place flours, baking powder, salt, cocoa and cinammon in a mixing bowl. Mix well with a fork. Stir in coconut milk, vanilla, and maple syrup. Crack the egg into the mixture. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg into the batter until well blended. Let the batter rest for a couple minutes.

Heat a small non stick frying pan over medium heat. Add a knob of butter or a touch of oil. Pour a saucer size amount of batter into the pan. After 20 seconds, place a few slices of banana, a dash of cinammon and a handful of chocolate chips on top. Wait until you see a little bubble or two on the pancake surface to flip. Flip and allow to cook for about a minute. Using your spatula, remove pancake onto a plate and make the rest, one by one.

Serve warm with maple syrup.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New terrain

Scorched earth: healthy chocolate fallen souffle cake

My family just celebrated my father's 69th birthday. My dad is a wonderfully gregarious and generous man. An innovative thinker, sophisticated eater and cook. He has crafted a host of signature dishes that have burned into my memories. Much like myself, he is emotionally connected to food. He has a number of favorite meals, some of the most near and dear to him are the ones created by his mother who has long passed on. I can relate to this because many of my all time favorite meals were the ones made by my dad, who did most of the cooking in my family when I was a child. He is an excellent cook, and has excellent and particular taste in food and beer. For all of his birthdays and special occassions, I go out of my way to provide him either with a splendid meal or beverage and this year was no exception.

No longer living at home makes making dinner for my dad next to impossible so I usually stick to a dessert or two and my mom orders in. My dad loves Indian food. This year we got take out from my new favorite restaurant -- Banjara. If you haven't been there, I heartily recommend dropping everything and going there right now. It is nothing short of excellent.

I typically make a special dessert for everyone in my family for their birthdays. They all have different favorites. My dad has a particular taste for raspberry and rhubarb -- a favorite combination of his mother who used it in everything from pies to marmalades made famous through his fond memories. He also loves dark chocolate. He is not a fan of anything that is overly sweet so this year I made two desserts mild in sweetness. 

Crumbling for rhubarb

There are a lot of family celebrations in my family these days, so it seems we are always eating dessert. I have been possessed by the thought of making great tasting but healthy desserts. But not everyone shares my open mind. Often when you tell someone that the cake they are about to eat is mostly made of beans and bananas, they tend to get a little nervous and spend the entire time they eat it, trying to taste those strange flavors and textures. So this time I was careful to announce the mysterious ingredients post-consumption. They enjoyed the particularly healthy cake that I made quite a bit, but my sister would have preferred it cold to hot. The crisp I made, however, was devoured instantly. I make a good crumble. The crumble I made this time around was healthier than usual and worked out very well indeed if I do say so myself. It is gluten free and could easily be made vegan by replacing the very small amount of butter with vegan margarine or shortening. 

The cake, much like the black bean brownies I made last week, was very different when eaten cold the next day (today). I ate it for breakfast because as far as baked goods go, it is remarkably good for you. It is gluten free. It is flour free. It is high in protein. It is naturally sweetened and far less sweet than any cake I've every made before. I'm tempted to say that it is better for you than a bowl of oatmeal -- well, maybe without the chocolate chips.

Chocolate Souffle Cake: Ready for the inferno

I served the cake hot out of the oven  with a little Coconut Creme Anglaise (recipe follows). I ate it again, alone, cold from the fridge. I like it both ways. If you don't enjoy banana flavor, eat the cake cold from the fridge. If you do enjoy banana flavor, eat it hot out of the oven. 

My dad had a great meal and dessert in the end, and everyone liked the cake, so I hope you do too! I think it may be my new favorite dessert, if only because it doesn't make me flush the way most desserts do. I find the natural sugar in it quite tolerable and the flavor and texture delightful. It also won't leave you feeling too full or weighed down by greasiness.

Bon Apetit

Fresh out of the oven and as cracked as Arizona


Part I:
2 -15 oz cans black beans (rinsed and drained)
1 heaping teaspoon organic baking powder
2 organic frozen bananas
1/2 cup organic maple syrup
1 MINIATURE CAN organic coconut milk
2 teaspoons organic cinammon
1/2 cup Ghirardelli cocoa powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

Part II:
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites beaten to firm peaks

Part III:
1 large handful organic dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 Farenheit.
Blend all ingredients before eggs in a bowl with a hand blender until very smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Blend in egg yolks until very smooth.

Beat egg whites in a separate small bowl until they form firm peaks. Fold in beaten whites a little at a time into the chocolate batter. Pour into a 9inch non stick baking pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until top of cake is just set and slightly springs back to the touch.

Serve hot with coconut creme anglaise for hot souffle-like mousse cake. OR serve chilled for denser silky chocolate cake. If you don't like banana flavor, serve chilled.

Coconut Creme Anglaise

1 can organic coconut milk
1 organic frozen banana
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon organic cinammon
1 capful organic maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pour the coconut milk through a fine mesh seive into a bowl. Scoop out the solids into a separate bowl from the seive and scrape down the fatty liquid as much as possible off the seive into that bowl. Add as much of the creamy solids and a little of the coconut water to the creamy bowl. To that bowl add the remainig ingredients and blend until smooth with a hand blender. Whip the mixture with an electric hand mixer until as frothy as you can get it. Chill in fridge until ready to eat. OR freeze for an hour before serving as mock-ice cream. Take out of freezer and stir up with a fork or spoon or hand blender to blend in any crystallized parts with the creamy parts.

Rhubarb-Raspberry Millet-Oat Crumble
A better crumble...

Rhubarb raspberry crisp with millet-oat topping

Berry Filling Recipe
1 package frozen raspberries (I use Stalbush organic)
1 package frozen rhubarb (I use Stalbush organic)
1/4 cup organic light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinammon
3 teaspoons organic butter
squeeze of 1/4 large lemon

Combine all filling ingredients in baking dish of choice. Break up the butter into little bits and distribute evenly throughout. Top with "crisp" and bake at 350 F for 20-30 minutes.

Crisp recipe
1/3 cup ground wild brown millet
2/3 cup organic quick cooking oats
1/3 cup organic oat flour
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup organic dark brown sugar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp vegan margarine
2 tsp organic ground cinammon
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract

Mix all "crisp" ingredients together to a crumbly consistency in a medium sized bowl using a fork. Top "filling" with "crisp" and bake until top is slightly brown and fruit bubbles red at the sides of the pan.

Serve hot with ice cream or cream or Coconut Creme Anglaise.

Why can't vegetarian food be elegant?

Easy answer. It can. 

I recently became very interested in incorporating fish-like flavors into vegan and vegetarian dishes. I am in the process of creating a soy-free vegetarian fish stick recipe. What can I say? I miss fish sticks. But in the meantime I wanted to test out whether beans could adopt a fish flavor with the addition of variuos seaweeds, and sure enough, they can.

So, what can beans and seaweed combine to simulate in a tasteful way? Pate of course. 

Salmon pate has been a favorite snacking item of mine for as long as I can remember. It is sweet, salty, savory and creamy in one teaspoon. What's not to love? Even though I still eat fish, I eat it a lot less than I used to. I also rarely eat it at home anymore -- its become more of a meal out option. I do, however, eat and prepare beans at home all the time. So, knowing that beans lend an incredible silkiness to dips and spreads, I set out to discover if beans could transform into a mock-fish pate. 

The pate I made has a subtle fish flavor, a voluptuous creamy texture and a hint of sweetness. It is cheap and easy to assemble and made mostly of items you may already have on hand (the seaweeds may be the exception to this but they are relatively easy to buy). 

This spread would be excellent on crackers or as a dip for vegetables or chips. 

If you want to transform this into a sliceable pate, rather than a smooth paste, you may want to slightly gelatinize it using a bit of agar agar or another vegetarian gelatin replacer. I wasn't so picky as to bother.

The seaweed in this recipe makes it extremely healthy for you as it is an excellent source of iodine (great for thyroid function) and a host of essential vitamins and minerals including potassium, Vitamin B12 and B6.
Seaweed is also known to have anti-cancer properties.

If you don't eat much seaweed, be warned that the smell of DULSE is quite strong when you open the package and take a whiff, but the taste in this dip will be quite subtle. You can always add less than my recipe calls for and add in small amounts until you reach the desired flavor you are after.

Enjoy this recipe within a few days of preparing. Store in an air tight container in the fridge.

Fish-free pate

1 can organic cannellini beans
The juice of 1/2 organic lemon
2 sweet gherkin pickles
3 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon Braggs (or tamari, or soy sauce)
2 teaspoons Kelp seaweed granules (or to your taste, more will enhance fish flavor)
2 tbsp Dulse seaweed granules (or to your taste, more will enhance fish flavor)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon organic ground cinammon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tbsp mayonaise or veganaise
1 tbsp organic canola oil, or other mildly flavored oil

Blend all ingredients in a mixing bowl with a hand blender until very smooth. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Serve chilled with crackers, vegetables, chips or crostini.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Polenta for the next generation: corn-free.

Gluten-free and Corn-free Millet Polenta with Pecorino and Goat's Cheese

Corn. It is a hot topic in the food world at the moment. The astounding vegetable has come along way since its discovery. The versatile crop has seeped into nearly every packaged food known to man in its various incarnations. With its widespread popularity, thanks to its astonishing versatility, comes equal amounts of hatred. Many people have developed serious corn allergies in recent years. This is due to corn's omnipresence in packaged foods and its over-processed nature. In that way it is very similar to soy; another vegetable crop that has dominated the food world. 

On a personal note, I do not have a corn allergy but I do avoid it whenever possible. I try to steer clear of GM crops in my personal consumption. But, as I have noted above, corn is a difficult substance to avoid these days. Whether its corn starch thickening your prepared mustard or corn syrup stabilizing the salad dressing on your mixed greens, corn has become nearly impossible to avoid. It is in this way that corn and soy are similar. They are as cheap and plentiful and their uses and forms are myriad. As a result they are used everywhere possible. I developed an allergy to soy a couple of years ago when my immune system was compromised by bad seasonal asthma. At the time I was consuming a lot of packaged dressing and sauces, and was a soy-loving vegetarian. Soy was present in almost every meal that I ate. I have no strong evidence, but a strong suspicion that my soy allergy cropped up as a result of over-consumption. Why do I think so? Its not uncommon for people who eat the same foods day in day out to develop allergies and sensitivities to those foods. The rest of my evidence centers around the fact that all the other allergies which I developed at that time were also to foods that I consumed very frequently: tree-nuts; strong herbs; and apples. 

So what does one do when they become allergic to their favorite foods? Well, after the good cry, I pulled myself together and revamped my entire diet. I stopped eating packaged foods. I stopped eating nuts. I swapped apples for pears. I gave up sushi. It was a thoroughly traumatic period in my life, and no, I'm not exaggerating. Since my longstanding offending food detox (I avoided the foods for over a year), my immune system has recovered and I have lost most of my allergies and have been able to gradually reintroduce the foods one by one into my diet.

So, if anyone reading this can relate to it -- my condolences. It is terribly frustrating to become allergic to foods that you love. It is also frustrating to be allergic to soy or corn -- they are in everything! It makes eating out nearly impossible and you can pretty much forget about 'convenient' foods altogether as nearly everything packaged contains some form of corn and soy. I will do my best to offer you great soy and corn-free recipes on this blog for the foods you may be missing most of all!

On that note, its time to start 2012 with a recipe that is innovative, hearty and comforting. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you CORN-FREE POLENTA! This dish is still GLUTEN-FREE.
Millet grits transforming into polenta

Polenta is an Italian dish made from corn grits. It is a comforting corn porridge made both sweet and savory. Today I discovered Millet grits. They look and cook just like corn grits, but faster. With the right complimentary ingredient balance, they are a pretty close match all around. I made a cheese polenta with a sugo (tomato-ragu) sauce to test the waters. I hope it brings you as much joy as it brought me.
Sugo Sauce

Millet Polenta with goat's cheese and pecorino and a Sugo Sauce

1/2 cup millet grits
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
black pepper (to your taste) 
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 splash balsamic vinegar
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp soft goat's cheese
1/3 cup grated pecorino
1 tsp organic honey

To serve:
olive oil, black pepper,sea salt, small handful grated pecorino.

Boil the water and half the salt in a small pot. Add the millet and stir. Cover with a lid and turn the heat down. The polenta will be ready in about 10 minutes, be sure to stir it occasionally. In the meantime, start your sauce.

When the polenta is nearly ready (should look like thick cream of wheat) add in your remaining ingredients. Stir lightly so that you retain pockets of the cheeses. Cover.

Sugo Sauce

1 small can crushed tomatoes
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
sea salt
fresh black pepper
1 tsp organic honey

I tend to make tomato sauces in a large stir-frying pan. I never use a non-stick pan.

Heat some olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. If they burn a bit, add a bit of water or red wine and loosen them from the bottom using a spatula or spoon. Add the garlic and saute it as well until fragrant. Add the salt and pepper, a few turns of each. Add the tomato puree. Lower the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add a splash of balsamic and a dash or two of the paprika. Add the honey. Let simmer for two more minutes. Taste. Adjust seasonings to your personal taste.

Serve the polenta in a deep bowl, drizzled with olive oil, a lot of pepper, and some
 grated pecorino cheese. Serve the sauce either on top, on the side of the bowl, or in its own bowl so you can gradually incorporate it into the polenta.


NB: There is likely to be more sauce than you need for this dish. I recommend either making extra polenta (ie/polenta for 2 by doubling that part of the recipe) or reserving the leftover sauce and transforming it into a homemade ketchup.

Leftover Sugo-Ketchup

Leftover Sugo Sauce
1 tsp cinnammon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp organic honey
organic white wine vinegar (enough to give the sauce a ketchup-like tang (I used about 3 tbsp)

Mix all ingregients together well or blend them together with a handblender until smooth. Store in a small sterile mason jar or jam jar if storing for later.  Or, store in a jar with a tight fitting lid or a tupperware container if you're likely to consume it within a week.