Comfort means different things to different people. A warm hug, a friendly email, a cheery phone call.. or wallowing with an ice cream sundae and warm apple pie. I try not to do the emotional eating thing but sometimes a big salad just won’t cut it. But can chocolate really overcome the worst blues? No.
I know some of you think I am nuts… some holier-than-thou soul who can shun the desserts and treats. Well, let me assure you that I am not immune. Trust me, there are enough vegan desserts that can keep me entertained and gluttonous. But sometimes, you just need something more.
A great way not to get suckered into buying treats is not to shop at standard grocers. This also means it can be more difficult for me to indulge if I want.
After writing the first part of my exam, I planned to do grocery shopping. It all made sense: I had neglected all foodly things earlier that week and it was time to restock. My exam also happened to be close to my favourite ethnic grocer. Score! I had no list, no recipes, no agenda – time was spent on studying pathology, not recipes. However, after that exam, all I wanted was comfort. I wanted to wallow in some chocolate.
My favourite grocer is filled with all sorts of fun, cheap produce: grapefruits, many different kinds of mangoes, baby bok choy, Asian mushrooms, cheap fresh herbs. I wanted to splurge. I wanted something decadent. Chocolate, anything remotely vegan and dessert-like. Um, yeah, no. Nothing here at all. The nuts didn’t appeal to me… and my splurge? Two pounds of baby arugula for $4. Two pounds doesn’t seem like a lot but it was two big clamshells worth of arugula. Was it a splurge? Yes, because I did not think I could eat that much arugula and I thought to myself: I should not be buying this. But it was no decadent splurge.
So, on my way home, I stopped by my favourite resto in Toronto, Belmonte Raw. In spite of improving their hours, because they are on the other side of town, I have not been in a long time. So this was my treat. I had no appetite, but I was salivating just wondering what their specials would be for the day. I needed some comfort. I ended up ordering a comforting smoothie and a raw burrito. I have raved about their raw burrito before, but this one left me flat. This version was only half of a burrito with a side salad. The smoothie was also lacklustre. I wanted more!! I decided that my taste buds could not be comforted at this point. They were beyond repair. My appetite could not be perked up and trying her sinful chocolate thimbles would likely not help the cause.
So I moseyed home. With my 2 pounds of arugula. But no interest in cooking or eating (let alone photographing and blogging). A good night’s sleep and an empty fridge partially motivated me to try something more than oatmeal in the following days. Cooking, instead of studying, seemed like a better idea to me, too. Dal bhat or creamy broccoli dal would have been a delicious comfort meal but now I had that arugula to eat.
I quickly realized that if I wanted to eat through the arugula, it would have to be cooked. Thus lemony arugula nests were born. This actually turned out much better than I anticipated. Considering nothing seemed to taste good to me, and I really liked this, that says a lot! It was also fun because it was a very simple recipe.
I used JL’s recipe as a guide. She simmered Italian-spiced tomatoes with olives and beans. I simmered tomatoes and white beans and added in a bunch of herbs that seemed Italian: marjoram, fennel seed and lemon pepper. It worked! The tomatoes were light and fresh with flavour, and I only simmered it for 10 minutes as I tended to the arugula. For the arugula, I misread the directions and lightly steamed it with some broth and garlic, and then doused it in lemon juice. Contrasting the two components was good. Lots of greens. Lots of beans. And I really don’t think the photos do it justice because I think it was even prettier in person… and surprisingly enough, leftovers were good, too.
What is your comfort food? Surprised mine includes beans? Shocked chocolate couldn’t suffice? I think having a delicious bowl of good food definitely helps…
Who invited winter?
I thought Toronto had been spared a white Christmas, as we were pummeled with rain instead of snow late last week. However, I woke up yesterday to howling winds, frigid temperatures and snow. Ottawa may have received 30 cm of the fluffy stuff over the past few days, but in true Toronto fashion, we had a sprinkle of snow.
This is indeed, the perfect solution. Rob and I are pining to go snowshoeing while in Ottawa for the holidays but that requires snow. Ottawa will have it and we can return to the lack of snowblower land without too much worrying. It just means we can’t snowshoe to work. I am ok with that. Rob may be sad. Over the last few weeks, Rob has occasionally walked to work. That takes him 2.5 hours. It would likely take him longer with snow shoes.
Last weekend was Woodstock in Christmas, and this is what I brought. Another benefit of cooking en masse on the weekend (other than not having to cook mid-week), is that I could pick my favourite dish to share.
Beans from scratch has become second nature. I typically simmer them on the stovetop while doing something else in the kitchen. This time, I brought back low-and-slow oven braised beans. Nothing could be so easy to get perfectly plump beans. Using Rancho Gordo’s plump, tiny Yellow Indian Beans beans definitely helped but the long simmer in the oven slowly cooks the beans to perfection. No exploding beans, nothing too mushy, just perfectly cooked beans. Three hours later, you have a house fragrant from the leeks and herbs and a pot of plump beans. Sara’s original recipe suggested broiling cheese overtop at the end of the braise but I went without for a vegan option. I had considered sprinkling almond parmesan overtop but ran out of time. The beans are definitely more than a sum of its parts. The leeks cook down to a silky creaminess and the Italian herbs confer a fragrant background.
Due to the sheer simplicity of this dish, it was easy to whip together other meals for the week. While my curries also turned out great, I didn’t think they would mesh as well with a traditional Christmas menu. I’ll share those, too, likely in the new year.
Although, turns out dal will be making an appearance at the Ottawa Christmas. My Mom has left me in charge of Christmas lunch and I’ll be making Root Veggie Dal. A perfect bowl to curl up with after returning from a snowy snowshoe adventure.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Amongst my closer friends and family, I am the only vegan. Quite a few of my friends are vegetarian, but my closest vegan buddy is in Vancouver. That’s across one big country. One of my co-workers is a former vegan, choosing to eat fish as an omega supplement mostly. I have yet to know anyone who has tried raw cuisine without my influence. Most of my friends are adventurist eaters, so I can share my kitchen successes and failures. While I eat vegan mainly for health and environmental reasons, sometimes I wonder about connecting with other like-minded souls.
A few months ago, I travelled with Rob to meet some of his friends from Burning Man. While mostly everyone was vegetarian, it was exciting to meet someone else who also dabbled in raw cuisine. She encouraged me to try banana chips in the dehydrator and told me about one of her raw successes: King Oyster Calamari from Living Raw Food by Sarma Melngailis. Sarma’s restaurant, Pure Food and Wine in NYC, is my favourite raw resto to date, so I was eager to try the dish when I got home. King oyster mushrooms were on sale, too, to boot. I didn’t have the cookbook, but a quick google search led me to Emily’s site which had the recipe.
The recipe was simple: marinate king oyster mushrooms, bread them with spiced ground flaxseeds (works as both the breading and egg-substitute!) and then dehydrate. My new-found friend also gave me a few other tips.
While the recipe says to dehydrate for 2-3 hours, she suggested dehydrating up to 5 hours for them to become really crispy. She also warned me that the whole recipe made a ton of food, so I halved it. (I also quartered the cocktail sauce below, since I ended up thinning it and had an overabundance of sauce leftover). I tinkered with the recipe since I don’t have an Italian spice blend, and instead added whatever looked like an Italian spice from my spice drawer: basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano, sage, parsley. I threw in some dried onion and garlic granules as well as lemon pepper seasoning instead of the black pepper. Even though I used chili powder, too, I dipped my finger in and thought something was missing. I added black salt. Now we were set. (Note to self: next time I may try this with nutritional yeast and smoked paprika, since I liked that with my Asiago-crusted baked zucchini sticks). I had a bit of leftover crumbs, so you could probably increase the number of mushrooms with this mixture – or pack it in more than I did.
Now, if you don’t have a dehydrator, do not fear. You can still make vegan calamari! I made these both ways: raw in the dehydrator for 3 hours and a separate batch for 10 minutes in the oven. I don’t care too much about the raw philosophy of not cooking over 115F, but I love the inventive recipes… so to hurry things up, I stuck some in the oven, too. Both were
good great. They honestly tasted like calamari. No hidden mushrooms here (Rob thinks he could taste mushrooms but only because he knew they were in there). Between the two versions, though, I preferred the raw dehydrated ones. They were more crispy and the breading stayed on (some of it stuck to my silpat in my oven version). The oven-baked version had more of a slippery calamari feel to it, though. In any case (or in both cases), Rob said he liked them better than regular calamari since it has a cleaner taste. I also preferred this version instead of the typical deep-fried options you find at restos. Bright and fresh, healthy food, what’s not to like?
Speaking of connecting with other like-minded souls, I was wondering if I have any readers in the GTA that would like get connected? I was really sad I missed Sarah’s potluck in the park, especially since it looked like it was a lot of fun!
Oh gosh, am I ever happy to be back at home! Thankfully I was able to enjoy the summer weather this weekend. 22°C, baby! Rob and I took advantage of the glorious weather by taking out our bikes for our first (real) bike ride of the year. I know it has only been 3 months, but I had forgotten how much I love riding my road bike.
With the beautiful weather in Toronto, the last thing I wanted was to cook up a storm over the weekend. Rob made a delightful savoury lentil and rice soup that I will be sharing, but it was times like this that I really appreciated having a freezer with the taste of summer.
If you thought my fridge was full, you haven’t seen my freezer yet! It is filled with cooked beans, herbs, frozen veggies and fruit, and of course, some meals that I have popped in there for emergencies. Rob and I have a physical menu of possibilities from the freezer: a white board where we keep track of what’s lurking in the cold. Mainly so that we know what’s in there… so we don’t forget about the container of black eyed peas, half a can of whole tomatoes, or this roasted red pepper and tomato soup with zucchini and cranberry beans.
Earlier, way earlier in the summer, I gushed over Denis Cotter. Except I only shared two of his recipes, his not-quite-authentic yet still delicious Massaman curry and the Pan-Fried King Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy over a Wasabi Millet Mash. I actually made a few of his recipes this summer, and when I pulled out this soup from the freezer, I was aghast that I hadn’t shared it yet. Shame on me, because it is great.
Cotter is the master of the multi-component meal, bringing out the best of each part of the dish. The original recipe can be found in his new cookbook For The Love of Food. Red peppers and tomatoes, right at summer’s peak, were roasted to perfection, then simmered and pureed to create a silky broth. Meanwhile, you cook your cranberry beans (I used fresh ones so this was fast, but dried beans could work, too, after you cook them). You then toss them with lemon juice and marjoram. Next, you saute the zucchini with garlic to take off their raw edge. This can all be done as the veggies are roasting. When you are all set to eat, ladle out a portion of the tomato-red pepper broth, top with zucchini and cranberry beans. Each component is slightly different, both in taste and texture, creating a complex and tasty soup. The lemony beans with the garlicky zucchini swim in the creamy and rich broth with wonderful results. Cotter also included a basil-chili oil recipe to drizzle overtop but I honestly thought the soup was great without it.
Thankfully, this soup freezes well (I made individual servings and simply combined all the components together) and I still have a few servings left. It is nice to have a taste of summer at the tale end of winter, when flavourful tomatoes are just a faint memory.
For once, my Mom could snicker that her grocery store was better than mine.
You see, I was on a mission to buy parsnips to make this stew. My trusty Sunny’s didn’t have any.
I found parsley root, with beautiful parsley leaves attached to it. It looked almost identical to a parsnip, which to my eye, is a white carrot. However, they don’t taste the same. Good thing I didn’t buy it!
I had to venture to a “normal” grocery store. Or T&T, since they have parsnips. I bet the Farmer’s Market would have some, too.
While we’re at it, let’s push the boundaries some more (truthfully, parsnips are not that adventurist for me). I don’t like licorice but like tarragon. Why not try fennel? I am so happy I tried it, because I loved this stew, fennel and all!
Continuing with my white bean kick, and my abundance of kale, I modified Isa’s Quinoa, White Bean And Kale Stew from Appetite for Reduction. I thought it might be plain and boring, but it was anything but. It was sublime. A great, comforting stew with tons of mellow flavours without bogging you down. I substituted the leek for onion and fennel, swapped the white potatoes for sweet potatoes, upped the carrots and parsnips and used up the last of my kale including the stems, which was only 1/2 lb.
Thankfully, this soup makes a ton. I will be slurping it up all week and then some!
I honestly had a hard time deciding which white bean and kale soup to make, and here are some other soups that caught my eye:
Turkey Sausage and Quinoa Pasta Soup (veganized of course) from Shape
White Bean, Roasted Garlic and Kale Soup from The Domestic Vegan
This is my submission to this month’s Simple and in Season, to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday, to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to Ricki’s Wellness Weekend and to both Ricki and Kim’s vegan SOS challenge featuring parsnips.