I mean, I can finally express myself in sentences!
Sorry for the blog auto-pilot for the last 3 weeks… After 2 glorious weeks in Colombia, it was back to the grind, off to work, sifting through oodles of emails, comments and catching up with my favourite blogs.
My second language is French and let’s just say three weeks ago, I knew zero Spanish.
We made sure we had the basics though:
Vegetariana estricta Vegan
But that might not mean anything, so we had to explain:
Without eggs (Really?)
Without milk (I usually had a funny look at this point)
We usually stopped there, but I also knew how to say:
We got better at explaining what I wanted:
Frutas (fruit!), verdura (vegetables), beans (frijoles), papas (potatoes) and arroz (rice).
other than baños (bathroom), another useful word was aqui (here)
As we learned more about Colombia (Que?), we became a bit more sophisticated and tried to make actual sentences.
Cuánto cuesta? How much does it cost?
Quero jugos naturales en agua sin azucar: I want freshly squeezed juice in water without added sugar!
By the end of our trip, a guide was teaching us the difference between Mucho bueno and Muy bien depending on the context of the sentence. And to greet other friendly men with Compa! and friendly women with Coma!
In any case, I loved my culinary adventures in Colombia, and we planned it so that I could stay vegan throughout the trip. I had to make a few compromises, and that was by eating white rice (brown rice and quinoa are essentially non-existent in Colombia) and I had more fried foods than I had in the last 3 years (fried plantains and yucca mainly if nothing else was available). But it was ok. That’s what vacations are for.
Now that I am back in my own kitchen, I can return to normal. Pull out some freezer meals. Forge ahead with some comforting pantry-friendly meals. Rob repeats recipes and sometimes I do, too. This is one of those dishes. Uber comforting. While I describe this as Dal Bhat meets Mujaddara, this would likely scare off a bunch of people… Too many foreign words thrown in there… But if I call it Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Crispy Onions, it is much more approachable, and still true to its name.
This comforting dish comes from Melissa Clark’s cookbook, Cook This Now. Savoury spices like cinnamon, cumin, allspice and ginger are combined with creamy red lentils and brown rice (aka dal bhat). Since the spices are aromatized at the beginning of the soup, they don’t pop with as much oomph as dal bhat, instead they are more mellow. This is a thick soup, with both lentils and rice simmered together, creating an utterly creamy consistency. In mujaddara, the rice and (green) lentils absorb all the water so they are dry, but still fragrant depending on the spices you use. However, the crowning glory of mujaddara are the caramelized onions. Here, onions are caramelized in parallel so that after an hour, you have dark and deeply sweet onions to go with your just finished lentil rice soup. Thus, simple fusion at its finest. Familiar, yet just a subtle twist to both recipes to keep you interested and excited… and a dish I know I can eat again and again.
And it is just so nice to be able to tell you all this in complete sentences. Freedom!
It is true. I am in a Mixed Diet Relationship.
I often get questions how Rob and I duke it out in the kitchen.
In my corner, I am the whole-foods vegan devoid of white flours and sugars.
At the opposite end, we have Rob, who will eat anything.
Thankfully, we actually don’t have segregated corners.
Before I met Rob, he was eating vegetarian at home. Actually, when Rob met me, I was eating a flexitarian diet (mainly vegetarian with occasional fish but I still ate meat, too). Rob had no clue what he was getting himself into, haha!
One of my friends who is vegan won’t allow any meat into his home. I am definitely not like that but I could see how dietary choices could definitely divide relationships. Thankfully both Rob and I are more accommodating, as well as our friends and families.
At home, Rob and I eat mostly the same stuff. Mostly vegan, although sometimes Rob eats yogurt and adds butter to his granola. There are some Rob-only ingredients, like the red and green curry pastes in the fridge (they include shrimp, so a definite no-go for me). There are some Janet-only foods, too, because Rob doesn’t really care for them- like my Amazing Grass for breakfast. For breakfast fruit, Rob gets the bananas and mangoes while I relish in berries. Rob loves spicy foods, so if cooking for himself, he usually increases the chilies. If cooking for both of us, they fall more into my own comfort zone (1/2 tsp Aleppo max!). Rob also has a sweet tooth and is pretty content to munch through the rare dessert that I make.
I think we’ve got things worked out pretty well in the kitchen, actually.
Rob eats out way more often than I do, which is where he gets his occasional fix of meat. If
we Rob cooks meat at home, it is for our guests. Rob’s last birthday party kind of had me in a tizzy because I didn’t want to cook meat. Rob couldn’t use the barbecue so grilling was out. Thankfully the slow cooker came to the rescue.
I still contend that while I don’t crave it, I probably miss fish the most. Here I am sharing a smoked salmon sushi pizza that I made for a party with mixed company. While traditional sushi can be finicky to make for a large crowd, making a casserole of sushi pizza is much quicker and easier.
I used the seasoned sushi rice from Yo Sushi and the sushi pizza recipe was modified from Bonnie Stern’s HeartSmart Cooking for Family and Friends. I ended up doubling the recipe to fit a 9″x13″ pan but I probably didn’t have to double it. It made a ton of food. My pieces were a bit big which necessitated using a knife and fork to eat, so next time I would opt for smaller bite-sized pieces, with overlapping cucumber slices.
I am still too shy to try a nontraditional raw take on this for a crowd. If I test-run it first, I may have more courage to try Ricki’s vegan sushi pizza next time.
When I visited San Antonio last year, I discovered Greens, a gem of a restaurant and a haven for vegetarians on the outskirts of downtown. Eager to side-skirt the meat- and cheese-heavy Texan cuisine, a few friends and I checked it out together. All of the dishes we ate that night were great – fresh and vibrant. They really know how to make a mean sauce!
I still remember when my friends tried the kale salad. It was their first time eating a raw kale salad and they enjoyed it. Simple and sweet, yet slightly spicy, but not overpowering. We tried to guess what was in it, pinpointing the flavours.. soy sauce? citrus? chili flakes? While there was no specific recipe (they make it to taste every day), thankfully our server told us exactly what was in it: soy sauce, sesame oil, red pepper flakes and brown sugar. I could have sworn there was orange juice, but regardless, I was eager to try my hand at this once I returned home, with or without the citrus!
As I flipped through Color Me Vegan, I bookmarked the raw kale salad with orange, grapefruit and lime, and I remembered the salad from San Antonio. I figured this would be a good recipe to try to recreate it. I wasn’t sure about including grapefruit, so I omitted it entirely. Being familiar with the massaging technique for raw kale salads, I also opted to wilt my kale with the citrus dressing. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the citrus kick from both the orange and lime juices. It paired well with the kale, and the addition of onion and pine nuts made this even better than the raw kale salad at Greens! I prefer my salads to be on the less sweet side, so feel free to add more agave, to taste, depending on the sweetness of your oranges.
I’ve said it before, but raw kale salads are perfect for gatherings: no worrying about anything spoiling in the sun and wilted kale salads can easily be made in advance since they are supposed to wilt! Enjoy!
Other kale salads I have enjoyed:
My first meal after I arrived in Tokyo was okonomiyaki. It was from the closest restaurant to our hostel. We had no clue what we were ordering, pointing to pictures instead from a photo album. All the while, making sure there would be no shrimp (no ebi!). We ended up with an assortment of vegetable pancakes that were cooked up on a hot grill in front of us. Some with more flour, others with different vegetables. I remember one being bright pink (I forget what made it that colour). Once the server noticed we were eating them plain, he encouraged us to try the sauces on the side. To be honest, we left wondering what the hype was about okonomiyaki.
We persevered, though. When we went to Osaka, we tried okonomiyaki again, at a very popular hole-in-the-wall resto. We had to wait in line for 30 minutes, but when we finally snatched a seat in the tiny resto, we were able to watch our cabbage pancakes being made in front of us: thinly sliced cabbage and carrots were mixed with a seasoned flour and dashi stock batter, grilled and then topped with your chosen toppings- most of them with bacon- and then it was slathered with Japanese barbecue sauce (okonomi sauce), and later drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise, and sprinkled with parsley flakes. A crispy veggie pancake with a soft middle, topped with savoury sauces. Delicious. I was hooked.
Okonomiyaki literally means as you like it. Want yours with veggies? Want yours with sauce? Do you want your toppings in the batter with noodles (Hiroshima-style), or on top (Osaka-style)?
Or in my case, do I want mine vegan? Oh yes! I was bookmarked this recipe immediately from Big Vegan because it used tofu as the base instead of the traditional flour and eggs. While I have made Kevin’s okonomiyaki before, I found it hard to flip and keep intact while cooking. As such, I was thrilled to see this version. While already nontraditional, you bake it as a huge pancake instead of frying it on the stovetop. It took more like 60 minutes to bake but it was delicious. Alone, the tofu-miso-nooch batter was flavourful even before we cooked it. The consistency was a bit more heavier on the batter on the batter-cabbage ratio than I remember mine in Japan, but it was great as is. We would definitely make this again.
My version was topped simply with black sesame seeds and toasted shredded nori, whereas Rob went more all-out with some tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and bonito fish flakes. Remember, as you like it. If you want to try your hand at homemade mayo and okonomi sauces, there are recipes forthcoming in Terry’s new book. I haven’t tried them, though. Big Vegan also has suggestions for wasabi-mayo and tomato sauces. Or go simple like Heidi, who used almonds and chives to garnish her veggie pancake.
I was planning on talking about Mixed Diet relationships in this post, but I think I will save that for my next post.
There are many reasons why I love Rob, but one of them is that he is really laid back. He doesn’t stress out when the fridge is already full and I come home with even more veggies or when I buy, um, another cookbook, or two… I also love the way he approaches cooking: a few staple recipes interspersed with new recipes.
Recently, he’s been culling meals from our favourites. Rob’s Repeater Recipes as I have tagged them on the site: Dal Bhat, Besan Chilla, Tamarind Lentils and this Creamy Broccoli Dal from Vegan Yum Yum. Why mess with success? They fall under “you can make these dishes for me anytime” category. Definitely comfort food. I have mentioned this delightful dal a few times, but have yet to share the recipe because we didn’t have any photos. Since we usually make this whenever we have a surplus of broccoli, I knew we would eventually capture it at a photogenic angle. I tried… there is something about a slurry of a soup that makes it hard to look as great as it tastes.
This is one of our go-to recipes because it is so packed with flavours. Indian-inspired flavours like cumin, mustard seeds, turmeric, chile flakes and garam masala really make this pop. The red lentils cook away into a creamy background interspersed with bits of broccoli (we use both the florets and stem). If you are anti-bits, just use the stems. If you are anti-broccoli (gasp!), just use the stems, because only the florets give it away that veggies are hidden in here. The almond milk helps to add an extra level of creaminess.
As written, the recipe serves 2-3 people. We’ve realized that doubling it makes the most sense since we like it so much.
I think I know how to cook beans.
I do it all the time. All kinds of beans. Black beans, white beans, chickpeas, lentils…
I also don’t subscribe to many of the voodoos surrounding beans.
I usually cook my beans with a dash of vegetable broth and a couple of bay leaves. I don’t worry about salting them. Sometimes I may throw in some kombu if I remember.
Sometimes I cook my beans without soaking them. They just takes a bit longer to cook.
After 45-60 minutes (depending on the bean), I will taste them every 10-15 minutes or so. They can go from al dente to mush in 10 minutes, if you aren’t vigilant.
One of my newest favourite beans are split pigeon peas, also known as toor dal or toovar/tuvar dal.
When Rob and I discovered you actually buy green mangos (labelled as green mangoes) for some Indian curries, I immediately knew I wanted to make a simple curry with toor dal. I love the way it falls apart, becomes creamy and has sweet undertones.
I forged ahead with the dal. They were not done after 30 minutes, nor an hour. I added more broth. I kept cooking, I added more broth. I kept cooking, and I added even more water. These beans were just never melt-in-your-mouth tender like my previous toor dal curries.
I know what you’re thinking (because I would think it, too): It is your batch of beans. They are old.
Not so!! At the same time, Rob was making a ripe mango curry with toor dal (Cumin-Scented Pigeon Peas with Mango) and he used the same beans. From the same bag. Within an hour, his beans were meltingly tender. With a glorious sweet and savoury curry.
While my curry was tart and somewhat crunchy. After around 2 hours, I think I gave up. I decided the curry was too tart so I added in the suggested sweetener and it tasted much better. With a dusting of garam masala, the flavours really popped. The toor dal, however, remained a bit on the plump side. This was still a nice curry, just not with the creamy, falling apart toor dal I was expecting. The beans kept their shape instead, just like when I toasted the mung dal in the Bengali Dal with Spinach.
I haven’t really paid much attention to whether I throw acidic foods with my beans, but since green mangoes are acidic, that must be the culprit. Maybe that specific urban bean legend is actually true.
Next time, I will add in the mango after the toor dal has cooked sufficiently, though.