One of the things I am enjoying about this sweetener-free challenge is determining how much sweetener I truly need. Furthermore, I feel less bloated, which is really keeping me motivated to stick with the challenge this long. I love throwing fruit into my savoury dishes, but I know not everyone rolls with me.
Earlier this fall, I made Cherry Collard Dolmas. A little bit more non-traditional because I was lazy and used larger collard leaves but also because sweet cherries were used to complement the savoury spice mix of cinnamon, allspice, mint and dill. Currants and pistachios were also mixed in there for good measure. Brown rice and white beans were used to amp up its nutritional profile. Yes, these were very good.
This time, I consulted with Tess for a simpler version. Brown rice and chickpeas are the base with fresh tomatoes, dill and fresh lemon juice, wrapped in a salty grape leaf. Seemingly humble ingredients, combined into power rolls, you have a winning snack. I liked them both before I cooked them (the lemon juice was a strong, fresh flavour) but they mellowed out nicely after a 20-minute steam.
I don’t know about you, but there is something so awesome about little nibbly snacks. Finger foods are fun. Serve as an appetizer, a snack, or eat a bunch as a meal. I served mine with a simple tahini dip which contrasted the lemony flavours nicely. A thinned out hummus dressing could work, too.
There is only one problem with finger foods. That means I have to assemble a whole bunch of teeny rolls! Trust me, it is worth it. However, if it is a weeknight and you just want to eat pronto, throw it into a larger collard leaf instead.
With all the recent sweets, it was probably no shock that I’d jump on the chance to try a sweetener-free challenge. Early in the summer I tried to reduce my fruit consumption, to no avail, as local berries arrived and continued to excite me throughout the summer. In the fall, came the figs and apples. Now we have pomegranates, too.
This time, I tried caramelizing it like I do with onions. A long slow braise to express all the natural sugars while taming the boldness of the anise. Silky and sweet, I really enjoyed fennel this way. I sprinkled it with cumin and lemon juice for a second level of flavour. Then, it is tossed with quinoa in a punchy salad spiked with cilantro and dill with chunks of lemon. The Aleppo chiles added a nice wave of heat contrasting the sweet fennel. While caramelizing the massive amount of fennel, you may wonder how everything will fit into the salad, but trust me. It wilts a bit and I loved that this was a fennel heavy quinoa salad, instead of a quinoa heavy salad. Tossed overtop baby spinach, it was delicious . Two guesses as to where I got this recipe. With such focus on each ingredient, you might guess Denis Cotter, but no, it was from another great, Ottolenghi. It was reminiscent, but better, than his barley and pomegranate salad I made last year.
The original salad also calls for pomegranate arils, which I added for one serving, just as I started my sweetener-free challenge. It elevated the salad to a whole other dimension. I wonder if it was because I knew it was the last fruit I’d be having until the new year. ;)
Have you ever tried a sweetener-free challenge? Do you think I am nuts for trying it? ;)
Hold up. The squashes have been stored but I have not forgotten about the lovely end of summer vegetables.
Thankfully, the frost is still at bay and I continue to harvest green beans. My greens (kale and collards) will only improve after a frost, so I am letting them continue to grow before I harvest them. Rob is planning a kale chip-a-thon once we do a mass harvest. The dehydrator will be baking up a storm!
I didn’t grow tomatoes this year and my dill died, but my aunt and Rob’s parents had much better success than me. Last weekend, they graciously shared with me some of the garden bounty: fresh, ripe (local and organic!) tomatoes and dill. This was my salad the following week and I was happy as a peach.
It is such a simple salad, but capitalizes on summer’s fresh bounty. You could even whip this one out in the middle of winter with green-house tomatoes and nobody would be the wiser. Roasting the tomatoes, leeks and garlic makes a delicious base for this salad. Coated in a touch of coconut oil, it permeates into the juicy tomatoes and silky leeks. I combined them with flageolet beans, perfect for salads with their creamy texture yet firm shape. No need for a dressing, the vegetable juices embrace the beans. Dust with dill, if you wish, for a delicious twist. Divine as a warm salad from the oven, this was just as nice as a cold salad as leftovers. I served my bean salad overtop salad greens.
Flageolet beans are one of my favourite beans and I held onto the last of my batch until this salad. I also recommend using them in this warm bean salad with leeks in a mustard dressing as well as this warm bean and carrot salad with dill. With less time in the kitchen, I may try Gena’s recipe next time I get some leeks. Don’t have flageolet beans? Try this with any small white bean, including white kidney beans.
For those keeping score. Rob = Polish. Me = Ukrainian and German.
As a bonus, both sets of our parents will be coming to Toronto to check out the festivals. I mean, they are coming to see us.
How will we manage? Which one to attend? They are reasonably close to each other, so we’ll likely hit up both festivals. The question is who will win the pierogi contest? OK, forget pierogi, I am more interested in kasha these days.
Nothing says more Eastern European than beets and dill, especially with kasha!
Kasha is buckwheat that has been hulled and roasted. As such, it is a darker brown than raw buckwheat. Kasha can be tricky to cook as it can absorb lots of water and turn into mush. Here, I opted to toast it in the oven first, and then cooked it in a 1:2 ratio with water. While the kernels still seemed to explode slightly, they reminded me of coarse bulgur in this salad.
Kasha has a slightly nuttier, stronger flavour but pairs well with beets and dill. I combined some garden-fresh green beans and roasted beets with a lemony dill vinaigrette for a bright early fall salad. Or late summer salad?
Cherry Collard Dolmas (Turkish Collard Leaves Stuffed with Rice, Beans and Fresh Cherries -Visneli Yaprak Sarma)
This has been the summer of cherries.
Local cherries arrived early, so by the beginning of July I had already made Almost Raw Chocolate Banana Crepes with Almond-Coconut Cream and Cherries, then balsamic cherries migrated onto a sandwich with rosemary cashew cheese and arugula, and I pickled a bunch in a five-spice spiked vinegar. I kept on thinking cherry season was over, but they continued to be on sale late into the summer. How can you say no to cherries at 99c/lb?
So, yes, I have yet another cherry recipe.
Earlier this summer, we thought I might have been able to join Rob in New York for a mini-vacation. We researched where we wanted to stay (airBnB!), what we would do (opera!) and what we would eat (Pure Food & Wine!). My favourite raw resto to date, it would have been a nice treat. I even scoured their menu to see what I wanted to order. I found it:
Cauliflower Cous Cous with Sour Cherry Dolmas with pistachio, almond, dried fruits, mint, Moroccan tomato jus
Sounds heavenly, no?
Turns out that when we went to book my airline tickets, we were not able to get the flights we wanted. So for the long weekend, Rob went to New York for work, and I stayed at home.
With a bit of extra time on my hands, I decided to tackle my own cherry dolmas. In retrospect, a raw version would likely have been quicker, but I opted for a more traditional cooked dolma. As traditional as cherry dolmas can be. When I visited Turkey, I was not wowed by dolmas. They were not on my radar. However, traditional dolma recipes typically include savoury spices like cinnamon and allspice, so I was sold. Instead of pine nuts, I used pistachios. Instead of traditional raisins, I used a touch of currants. The majority of the sweetness comes from the cherries.
Instead of a rice-based dish, I beefed it up by including white beans. Doing so made me have a lot more filling than I had initially bargained for, so I scrapped the grape leaves and plucked collards from my garden instead. With a cooked filling, a cooked collard seemed more appropriate, instead of my typical raw collard wraps. Pre-steaming the collard leaves made them much easier to wrap the filling and keep their shape.
The dolmas are simmered in a cherry-infused broth to complete the cooking of the rice. If you cooked your rice all the way through the first time, I think you could save yourself the final cooking step. It was a pretty labour intensive recipe but at least I didn’t have to wrap 100s of dolmas in tiny grape leaves. ;)
In any case, these were so flavourful, they were definitely worth the effort. The rice filling alone was delicious, so if you just want to make that, I understand. :)
I made the cranberry-lemon-tahini dip for the dolmas but I didn’t find it needed a dip. In fact, the sweet on sweet clashed. If you want something to serve it with, a plain yogurt would be nice.
With all my cherry fodder this summer, Rob came back with a surprise present for me from New York: a cherry pitter!
If you can’t tell, I am all about the greens. Any kind of vegetable, bring it on [except celery]. I still buy leafy greens even if my garden is growing kale and collards. Especially when they are 2 HUGE bunches for $1. When I mean huge, I decided to do the weight test. Each bunch clocked in at 2 lbs. That’s the equivalent of 4 bunches for $1. Booyah! Surprise sales. That’s when I get in trouble. What the heck to do with all the greens?
I now have the perfect solution. You have to cook them down into creamy silkiness. This way the greens wilt down and you can munch through a bunch in no time. My Green Soup with Ginger with both Swiss chard and spinach almost called me back, but I decided to try a dish with more sustenance. Last time, I added quinoa to the Coconut-Braised Collards and this time, I continued with the Greek theme and added Christmas Lima beans (any large white bean would work) to my stewed greens. The gentle, slow simmer allows the tomatoes to cook down, conferring sweetness and creaminess, while the paprika, mint and dill infuse an extra flavour dimension. This is how you eat your greens, my friends. Lots of them. :)
(If only I could do the same thing with lettuce!)
I like to think of myself as a self-taught cook. Although, technically, I took the introductory course in George Brown College’s Culinary Arts Program a few years ago. Exploring new vegan meals through cookbooks and blogs has been the real way that I have learned so much about cooking and my kitchen. I continue to share my recipes, hoping to share the little tips and wisdom that I have picked up on the way.
While I am fairly adept in the kitchen, the garden still remains a mystery to me. Sun, shade, companion plants, pests and bugs, oh my! Then there’s the proper way to grow them, how to feed them water and other nutrients… and finally how to properly harvest. It feels like there are so many things to learn about even after picking out the so-called “easy” plants I want in my garden.
Last year we had our first garden and not everything was successful. This year, in a new home, a new garden, we decided to keep things simpler: potted herbs, beans, zucchini and kale in the garden with more kale and collards interspersed amongst the garden. Then there’s the impulse buy of kabocha squash. Four tiny plants have morphed into GIGANTIC plants, seemingly overnight (hey, we were in Colombia). After a month, my plants are at least 5 feet long, with numerous flowers. Upon further reading, I am kind of regretting the purchase. Most people recommend covering the plants to keep away the pests. They suggest opening the covers for only 2 hours so that the blossoms can be pollinated, it must be pretty bad. Furthermore, did you know that squashes need to be dried while on the vine? Kabocha squashes, in particular, need to be stored initially at a high temperature and then again at a cool temperature for long-term storage? Sounds like these crazy vines are staying here all summer, oh my!
Another mystery to me is that I cannot seem to grow dill. Dill weed. It is supposed to be so prolific many consider it a weed. Both this year and last, my seeds did not sprout. This year, I also bought some seedlings. After returning from Colombia, they disappeared. I am guessing they died. I know they don’t like to be transplanted, but I was hopeful. Oh dear.
My other herbs are doing well, so I will have to rely on the grocer (and friends!) for my dill fix.
Have an abundance of dill? Or just a lover of dill? Definitely try these garlic-roasted chickpeas with a creamy lemon-dill dressing. It had been a while since I’ve had pan-roasted chickpeas, which were a favourite of mine 2 years ago, so I decided to break them out with this creamy lemon-dill dressing from Angela. She used it with tofu but the garlicky chickpeas worked well, too. This was glorious fresh from the pan, but due to the creamy nature of the dressing, it was absorbed by the chickpeas as leftovers and became a bit dry. If you think you might be going the leftover route, consider only adding the dressing just prior to serving.
Anyone have tips for growing dill weed? Should I try again?
In much the same way as there is an art to using up the last of your fresh produce before you head away for vacation, I think there is an art to keeping a kitchen well-stocked for your return from vacation. While I have a few go-to recipes from pantry staples alone, and freezer meals help, when I come home from vacation, I am usually craving something fresh. I want the greens.
While I hate asking for rides, at the airport, it is nice to be picked up by a familiar face. I still remember returning from Japan to friendly faces and in addition to a quick ride home, they also had a few things to get me through to my first grocery run. At that time in my pre-vegan days, it was eggs, bagels, fruit and some leftover soup. With an empty fridge, it was a glorious gesture.
While Rob and I are good at taking transit to the airport, this meant we didn’t have any room to stop for groceries with all our luggage on the subway. In any case, while we came home to an empty fridge, it wasn’t so empty after all.
Granted, we were only gone for two weeks, so we still had a few grapefruits and apples for my usual breakfast routine. Onions and carrots in the crisper keep well, too. Cabbage, too. Thankfully garlic lasts, as do other citrus like lemons and limes. When in season, winter squashes can be stored outside the fridge. Frozen staples also work well: spinach, vegetables and herbs. I also keep my cooked beans in the freezer.
I always tell myself I will stop coming back from vacations on Sundays, only to be back at work on Monday, but we never learn. Returning from vacation means I also need to find quick-cooking meals that I can make after work, amongst unpacking, laundry and all that jazz from the vacation wrap-up.
Scrap the brown rice. It can take a long time to cook. Instead, I bastardized Gena’s Greek Lemon Soup (Avgolemono) by substituting quinoa. It takes half the time to cook, making a quick and tasty soup. Bright and fresh from the lemon , creamy from the tahini with depth of flavour from the miso, dill and nutritional yeast. Considering traditional avgolemono is made with eggs, the quinoa bastardization seems quite tame.. and quite the fanciful adaptation from the original. Regardless, this is a filling and delicious soup. Enjoy!
If you thought roasted celeriac, lentils, hazelnuts and mint were an odd combination for a salad… a delicious salad, at that… what about this one?
With a such crazy combination of ingredients in this barley salad – pomegranate, dill, allspice – I’ll give you one guess as to where this recipe came from. Not to throw you off, I added the snap peas.
Your one guess….. Ottolenghi? You’d be right!
Ottolenghi has this way of mixing flavours in the most unusual combinations. I often wonder what kind of mania is happening in his head. Flight of ideas? At least the recipes are tested before they hit the press, though. Right? Right?
This is an unusual salad, which Ottolenghi wrote in Plenty (recipe posted here). It is a nice wholesome salad, with an extra dimension from the allspice and dill. Ottolenghi advises to cook the barley in plenty of water, but I find this creates a more mushy consistency. Instead I prefer to boil it with a 2:1 ratio of vegetable broth. I also prefer to toast my barley to accentuate its nuttiness. My other adaptations were to decrease the dressing and scrap the parsley altogether. The salad is overflowing with pomegranate arils which offers a sweet crunch, countered by the nutty barley, and accentuated by the earthy allspice and bright dill. The sugar snap peas also add a nice sweet crunch and we can always use more veggies. :)
While I like to rotate my grains, I am particularly fond of quinoa and eager to try my hand at Kate’s version of this recipe with quinoa and balsamic vinegar.
You’d think something was up. While I have long given up cheesy bliss, meat-laden meals and sweet desserts*, I have been having a lot of random food cravings. Cabbage. Tahini. And now pickles. When I told Rob I drank the pickle juice after I ate the last pickle, he was concerned. That’s what pregnant people do! No worries on that front. :P But what’s up with the cravings?
*Full disclosure: December was filled with chocolate cravings (gosh, those cookies were so good!). I also learned that Clif and Luna bars are deadly addictive. They may be vegan, but they are junk. I have been cut-off.
In any case, I don’t feel that guilty obliging my pickle cravings. Yes, they can be a bit salty, but they can be so satisfying with their crunch and vinegary bite.
Truly, pickle soup is a misnomer. Yes, there are pickles in it but it is not a dominant flavour. Just like vinegar and lemon juice are added to enhance the balance of a soup’s flavour, pickles do the exact same thing here. They add that salty and acidic touch.
So if this isn’t a pickle soup, it is a soup filled to the brim with veggies! It has an Eastern European flavour profile with dill and cabbage but it also has a hint of thyme. The veggies are bountiful, making this a huge pot of soup – leek, delicate oyster mushrooms, celeriac, carrot, turnip, Swiss chard, cabbage, red bell pepper – as well as barley.
While the flavours don’t scream out in any sense, they mingle well together. The pickles add that extra dimension that makes you think about the soup. Use dill pickles, Polish if possible, for the nice tang. Even pickle haters could enjoy the soup since the pickles are hidden amongst the plentiful veggies.
Even though I added in even more veggies than the original recipe, substituting a few ingredients as well (celeriac, baby!), I didn’t tire of this soup. I usually shun recipes that feed 8 people, but not this time. I relished in it. Sometimes I ate this soup twice a day!
Thankfully I think my pickle cravings subsided after a round of the soup.
What have you been craving recently?
This is my submission to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday, to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this week’s Wellness Weekend, to this month’s Bookmarked Recipes and to this month’s No Croutons Required featuring fresh herbs.
I may be half-Ukrainian but darned if I know how to speak it. My vocabulary is limited to Я тебе люблю (Ja tebe liubliu). Some kids learn swear words, but I was only told how to love (it means ‘I love you’).
Rob is slowly introducing me to Polish words. As they pop up, obviously. The key to my heart lies in the kitchen, right? ;) First, I learned how to say borscht. While borscht originates from Ukraine, many other countries have their own variations. In Poland, the soup is called barszcz. Notice the ah sound… and the lack of the t at the end. ;)
Polish barszcz has numerous variations, but the vegetarian version is commonly reserved for Christmas Eve. With the
bloody blazing red beets you have a very festive soup with the dilly green accent. This version, tinkered from Rebar, makes a huge pot of soup filled with vegetables – beets, cabbage, carrots and tomatoes – and white beans for good measure. Lemon juice and balsamic vinegar add that necessary tang, a key feature in Polish barszcz. Traditionally, the soup was aged to get that acidic tang. Sounds like a project to tackle in the new year. ;)
Due to its association with Christmas, I decided to make it for the pre-Christmas dinner. Rob told me it was very similar to his family’s barszcz. I really enjoyed this soup. So did everyone else (well, except for those who shun beets and cabbage and didn’t even try it!). I found the vegetables complemented each other nicely and the Polish dried mushrooms added a deeper, complex flavour. Perfect for Christmas Eve, or any time of the year. I’ll be enjoying it a few weeks from now because I packed the leftovers in the freezer to enjoy later. This makes a ton of soup!
Happy holidays, everyone!
While the Baked White Beans with Garlic, Lemon, and Herbs takes an hour and half to bake, it doesn’t take that long to prep. I have become used to cooking my own beans on the stovetop, and routinely cook a big batch, freezing them in 1.5 cups portions with the bean cooking liquid. This way, when a recipe calls for a can of beans, I have exactly what I need in my freezer. I also have canned beans for all my emergency bean needs because as I am learning, my freezer isn’t actually that big.
This is a super quick soup, courtesy of Tess and thus literally bursting with flavour. White beans, kale and a host of flavours (garlic, lemon, celery seed, dill) are combined for delicious results. While you usually have to simmer a soup for complex flavours, here you only have to blend and heat. Almost an instant soup. With a dirty blender and a pot.
I adapted it from Radiance 4 Life, by increasing the kale and using lemon pepper for extra zing. Funnily enough, I hate celery but don’t mind celery seeds and thought they helped create many levels of flavour. The balsamic vinegar works well for the soup as well, but it makes the soup a bit murky. If you have white balsamic vinegar, this would be the time to use it.
Thank you for all your suggestions on how you bookmark your recipes on my last post. For some reason, Google Reader doesn’t always search every post, so sometimes I resort to searching through the archives of my favourite blogs.
We all know the heavy hitters in the food blogging circles. We could argue about our top 3 blogs, but I enjoy Heidi’s blog at 101 Cookbooks and have had success with many of her creations. Even after 3 cookbooks to her name, she continues to post recipes that feature fresh and natural ingredients. One of the benefits of having a blog, instead of her cookbooks, is that it is quickly and easily searchable. When I wanted to know what to do with some leftover dill, I looked through her archives for inspiration.
I eventually settled on this seemingly simple white bean and carrot salad. It is simple to make but the flavours work really well together. This is definitely where food synergy is at play. I added my own spins to the dish, adding more carrots, using less oil and no sugar. Instead, I opted to caramelize the shallots and carrots to capitalize on their natural sweetness. Slivered almonds confer a satisfying crunch.
I froze extra flageolet beans from my last flageolet bean salad, so this was easy to whip together. The broth-infused creamy white beans were the definitive star of the salad. If you can’t find flageolets, any white bean could work like great Northern or pinto (Heidi used alubias, a kind of pinto bean). In a pinch, tinned beans could work as well but they don’t brown up as well as home-cooked beans (be mindful that they don’t turn to mush).
This salad tastes great fresh from the stovetop but also works wonderfully after a few days when the flavours have melded together even longer.
It is getting close to the actual barbecue, and I am still trying out new recipes.
I honestly thought I had a winning recipe here.
You have your typical coleslaw with a vinaigrette, and then you have this coleslaw on a Middle/Eastern/European kick. First, slivered green cabbage, much loved by the Poles, is lovingly infiltrated by kohlrabi. I really enjoyed the crisp, slightly sweet julienned kohlrabi which was a perfect match to the cabbage. If you don’t have any kohlrabi, just increase the cabbage. If you have kohlrabi, make it into a slaw, as you won’t be disappointed.
Next, we have a lemony vinaigrette, which I much prefer to a creamy dressing any day. Spiced with dill, we have the Eastern European flavour palate going again. Sprouts are added for more mouth feel.
But then Ottolenghi adds the wonderful finale, his Middle Eastern flair, the best twist to the mix: dried tart cherries.
Since it is cherry season in Ontario, I tried the salad with both fresh and dried cherries, and the latter are definitely the winner. Which means everyone wins, because then this becomes a year-round salad. I also decreased the amount of dressing while adding in more vinegar, increased the sprouts and substituted some dill seeds since I didn’t have enough fresh dill.
However, despite how much I loved this salad, and figured it played with the perfect palate for feeding Rob’s Polish family (cabbage, lemon, DILL), he vetoed the salad. Poof! Just like that, it disappeared from the menu.
Their loss is my gain, because I have been eating this salad all week and pretty content that I don’t have to share it with anyone. :)
The sad part is that I am still wondering what kind of salad to make for the Poles… :P
Toronto is having its first long heat wave of the summer. Tomorrow’s forecast is for a high of 38C and who knows what it will feel like with the humidity. It is a positive sauna outside and I don’t like it one bit! :(
Figures that all I want to make are baked beans. Turning on my oven when my house is already 28C inside. I must be nuts.
Nuts for beans, of course!
I am not bent on making your typical ooky sweet ketchup baked beans. I’ve already done the non-traditional, but uber delicious Mango BBQ Beans (not baked but the stovetop preparation makes this much more summer friendly!). I am talking around-the-world type of baked beans.
Because, every country has a different spin on the classic bean dish.
Apparently vegan New Brunswick-style is to use blackstrap molasses and ginger for a zippy punch.
Or I could go more into southern soul cooking, using baked black eyed peas.
How about Mexican-style with Anasazi Beans Baked with Ancho Chile?
Then there’s Sephardic White Beans with Leeks.
Substitute the leeks with onions, add allspice, cinnamon and cloves, and you have Syrian baked beans.
If you were Serbian, you’d bake your white tetovac beans with sweet paprika.
When in Nigeria, you might add curry powder, cumin, coriander, and peanut butter.
A quick glance onto my back porch, with its bountiful flat-leaf parsley, steered me into the direction of Greek Baked Beans (Gigantes Plaki), where giant lima beans are baked with a luscious tomato sauce spiced with smoked paprika, oregano, garlic, parsley and dill. Already a creamy bean, the giant lima bean is brought to a silky high as it is baked in a delicious sauce. Baking confers even heat distribution and somehow allows the beans to continue to become creamy without losing its shape. Lima beans, if overcooked, can quickly disintegrate into mush if you don’t watch them carefully while they are cooking. Browning the beans during the last 15 minutes, allows a slightly crusty exterior to the top beans. The mixture of textures is wonderful.
Serve slightly warm, or at room temperature, with slices of bread, or just as is, which is my preference along with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.