Variety is the spice of life. It is possibly the best spice in the kitchen, too.
You can probably tell I like to experiment in my kitchen… so many great recipes to try and share. So many new things to explore.
You’d think I’d run out of repertoire. Me, too. Not yet, at least.
Case in point. I made yet another new hummus. This time I shunned the chickpea and traded it for roasted carrots. I kept my favourite hummus classics: fresh lemon juice (with a strong flavour from the zest, too), garlic and tahini. Smoked paprika and cumin for more depth of flavour. This is a very creamy dip. Lip-smacking good.
Faced with some leftover hummus after a party, I decided to turn it into a thick dressing for my salad. My last carrot (ginger sesame) dressing was paired with quinoa, avocado and tomato. This time, I juxtaposed it against black rice, tomatoes, baby greens and fresh herbs.
A note on black rice, possibly one of my favourite rices to date. When I cut fruit out on my sweetener-free challenge, I knew I was going to miss some of the many benefits from eating whole fruits: fiber, vitamins and anti-oxidants. This was how I stumbled upon black rice, also known as purple rice or forbidden rice. It has a lovely short-grain rice feel similar to my favourite medium-grain brown rice with the added bonus of more protein and more anti-oxidants. Turns out that colourful is better for you, especially when talking about rice. I liked that the black rice wasn’t too sticky and had great flavour naked. As such, it was fun to throw it into this salad.
I ended up tossing it with an herbed spring mix (a mix of baby greens that includes dill, cilantro and parsley), which I thought brought this to the next level. Not the greens, but the herbs. I keep forgetting how simple herbs can totally elevate a dish from ho-hum to hoo-ya! Just a dash of fresh herbs was enough and in truth, the herb that stood out and complemented the salad best was the dill.
After I ate this salad, I had a bit of tummy rumblings. My Mom asked me what new foods I had eaten lately. Everything I eat is new. (Actually, at first I said nothing. Nothing crazy new) Except for the leftover hummus, everything else was new. It was my first time trying black rice and the herbed lettuce greens. Furthermore, I drank a mamey shake, too. Exciting times at the beginning of the week! ;)
Pinpointing culprits when eating fresh foods can be a challenge for me without a lot of sleuthing. Mostly free of FODMAPs other than the garlic, I don’t think that’s the problem. A repeat salad had no problems so who knows what it was. Perhaps the chocolate walnut dessert from the night before? Probably. Too many walnuts? Who knows… it isn’t a problem now. ;)
Here’s to more black rice. Have you tried it yet?
When I photographed this, I was worried it may look eerily similar to the Red Lentil and Spinach Curry (Vegan Tikka Masala). Red lentils + tomato + spinach… This one has carrots, isn’t as red and is more soup-like than the curry, though. I think they look reasonably different, so trust me I am not recycling photos! No lost photos for this dish…
In truth, it was the success of the tikka masala that had me throwing bountiful fists of spinach into yet another red lentil dish.
I have made the traditional Turkish red lentil and bulgur soup before, having learned it while travelling in Turkey. A humble, yet decidedly filling and nutritious soup, it was one of our favourite meals on our trip, especially when we learned how to cook it ourselves. This version, courtesy of Turquoise, is billed as a humble peasant soup. The lentils must make it peasant-like because there is nothing bland about this. I love the addition of two different kinds of smoked paprika and cumin (I did not stifle the full amount of smoked paprika and it was ok!). I added in the spinach, because, well, I had tons of it and it is easy to incorporate into thick soups. However, the best part of this soup, is the finishing spiced oil. I am used to this in Indian dishes, which is called a tarka, when spices like cumin, coriander, garlic and ginger can infuse oil that is added at the end of the cooking. This isn’t an Indian dish, so dried mint and smoked sweet paprika are fried at the end to permeate the oil. It was actually very pretty when drizzled over the soup. Sorry, you guys got photos of leftovers! Have no fear, the leftovers tasted as good with the tarka already stirred into the soup. :)
Do you use the tarka method for your cooking? Outside Indian foods?
OK, file this under “I don’t need to try that again“.
Not this dish. Chicory greens.
I am warning you: evil. Turns out not all greens are as lovely as spinach, Swiss chard and kale. Chicory leaves look like dandelion greens and they (likely) also taste like them: BITTER! They are cousins, after all.
This dish had such promise. I used freekeh, which is young cracked wheat with beautiful smoky undertones, and chickpeas and spiced it with paprika, cumin and pomegranate molasses. Thyme and lemon, too. Sounds beautiful but thwarted by the bitter greens. The original recipe called for ground lamb (which I obviously omitted) but I doubt that would overcome its bitterness. Next time, I’d suggest using a milder green like Swiss chard or kale. Although, the leftovers were not as vile.. either that, or I slowly became accustomed to it.
I was going to say that, in retrospect, this was obviously not meant for me since I am a pitta (which shuns bitter foods). Although, turns out the joke’s on me: chicory greens are good for pitta. I guess I must take after vata in this regard. Or maybe this is all messed up since it isn’t an Ayurvedic recipe. ;)
So, tell me, do you like bitter greens? If so, how do you enjoy eating them? If I ever try them again, I’ll go with this dish for Moroccan Braised Mustard Greens, which I’ve tried and enjoyed. Maybe I just had a particularly bitter bunch?
Imagine my shock when Rob called me from the grocery store to tell me they were out of broccoli. It wasn’t even a weekly special. No broccoli in the entire store. I thought new year’s meant more carrots, but maybe it really means broccoli? ;)
In any case, have no fear, I switched recipes and ended up clipping off the last of my garden kale. Yes, there has been snow here for over 2 weeks and yes, hidden underneath the snowy blanket, my kale is still alive and kicking. More power to the kale! (The broccoli dish will have to wait)
Black eyed peas are certainly not just for the new year, but I was drawn to this black eyed pea and kale stew through Random Recipes. This month’s challenge was to randomly select a recipe from a cookbook from someone else’s library. I decided to tackle this electronically. When I saw Ali was gifted Superfood Kitchen I tried to borrow it from the library, but it hasn’t been received yet. In that moment, I decided that the first recipe I found online from the cookbook would be my “random recipe” and I found it here: Kale and Black Eyed Pea Stew. I like that Julie has incorporated more common “superfoods” into her cookbook, like leafy greens and legumes, which can be seen in this recipe.
This is no ordinary bean and green stew. Along with black eyed peas and kale, there is red pepper as well as my addition of oyster mushrooms. It is a European spice mash-up with oregano and thyme as well as smoked paprika and Ancho chile powder. I was scared to use a full tablespoon of smoked paprika, but feel free to use more because this was not spicy. I ended up adding liquid smoke at the end for a further depth of flavour. But oh, this alone would still be a great chili-like stew, but this it is not. A special twist comes form the addition of ground wakame. A little goes a long way and makes this a unique stew. It brings a certain seaweedy-ness to the stew. By the way, a few notes about my version: I used dried herbs in this recipe because I don’t usually use fresh herbs for a long simmer (they turn to mush, so maybe remove them as a bouquet garni). As well, the recipe calls for 3 cups of cooked black eyed peas but I am fairly confident this dish could be made more simply by cooking dried black eyed peas with the soup broth (which I have not tried but noted in the recipe below).
Smoky Tempeh and Chard Stew
Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew
Sneaky Collards at Serious Eats
Roasted Squash and Shallots with Merguez Chickpeas in River Cottage Veg Every Day
Spanish Chickpeas and Spinach Stew with Ginger at I don’t know, what do YOU want to eat?
Smoky Red Lentil Stew by Sprouted Kitchen
Smoky Paprika Baked Beans by The Spade & Spoon
Spiced Red Lentils by Ottolenghi
Pumpkin Chili by Never Homemaker
French Lentil Soup with Smoked Paprika in Let Them Eat Vegan!
Easy New Orleans Red Beans and Rice by Fat Free Vegan
“1 Million” Veggies Lentil Stew by Chocolate Covered Katie
My other recipes with smoked paprika are here
Everyone’s taste buds change over time.
Even before I started the sweetener-free challenge, I wondered how my tastes have changed. I can’t do deep-fried foods or other meals doused in oil. It isn’t the fat that bothers me because I easily down more than a handful of nuts in a sitting. :P
Last week, I started to re-introduce sweets. Fruits: mostly apples and berries. I have replenished my morning grapefruit stash. Dark chocolate, too: I made my Almost Guiltless Chocolate Mousse Pie. After this challenge, my tolerance for highly sweetened foods decreased.
My tolerance for spice has increased, albeit still slowly.
Then I discovered Aleppo chile flakes, more flavourful than hot. Slowly I added more and more to my dishes. I began experimenting with Ancho chili powder and paprika as well.
I was drawn to this recipe for Spanish Chickpeas since it looked like a flavourful warm chickpea salad. Spiced with smoked paprika, chile powder and roasted garlic, it really called my name. It has been awhile since I’ve pan-cooked chickpeas, and as I made it, I added spinach. When I sat down to eat it, I was smitten. Perfectly balanced with smoky undertones, sweetness from the red peppers and lightness from the lemon juice. It reminded me of my Spanish Chickpea Salad with Capers and Roasted Red Peppers (without the salty capers) and the addition of the spinach reminded me of Andalusian Chickpeas and Spinach. Two years ago, I made a hybrid from Deb’s recipe and the recipe in The New Spanish Table. All I remember was that it too spicy. I remember kicking myself for using so much paprika.
Two years later, I compare both recipes. I assumed I had used a tablespoon of paprika or something crazy the first time. No, it was only one teaspoon. Just like in this recipe. This version was definitely not spicy even with the addition of Ancho chile powder.
Any takers? Have my taste buds improved or has my paprika decreased in potency? ;)
(My paprika is not two years old, in case you were thinking it! I used sweet paprika from Penzey’s before and smoked paprika from Whole Foods for this recipe (the brand escapes me at this time) I am tempted to believe that smoked paprika isn’t as spicy as its non-smoked counterpart).
Here are some other great Spanish recipes:
Winter has arrived. Or least poked its head up. It was frigid as I biked to work on Friday. Cold and windy, a terrible combination. No snow at that time, but -11C with the windshield (12F for my American readers). Snow came later.
It is supposed to warm up again this week, although the city already dropped down the salt. Snow and more importantly, the salt, is what causes me to pack up my bike for the season. I was hoping to break 13,000km on my bicycle odometer this year. My goal used to be 12,000km but I surpassed that last month. I am 300km short of my goal. With a 20km daily commute, that would only take me 3 more weeks, basically right before Christmas holidays. The odometer has been ticking since I bought my commuter bike in October 2009. It followed me as I cycled to Cornwall, Niagara Falls and Kingston. Averaging over 4000km each year, it seems more impressive than it entails. This year, Rob and I did very little recreational cycling. My distance is purely based on a longer commute. It is amazing how quickly the extra distance can add up.
I will have to see how much rain we get before I decide how to get to work on Monday. Bike or transit?
In addition to the cold, one of the things I do not like about the winter is the limited amount of fresh vegetables. In the summer, everything is at my fingertips. Cheap local produce at its peak. Now I am not as excited by the grocery flyers… veggies rarely make it to the sales page. I try to capitalize on anything veggie-like on sale. Mushrooms, greens, broccoli, carrots, anything.
This week spinach and red lentils were on sale. 4lbs of red lentils for $1.27. 3 bunches of spinach for $2 (last week it was 2 bunches of spinach for $1). What amused me most was seeing how many people were buying the spinach. So many people! The grocers kept wheeling in more spinach. Big bunches, too. Spinach for the win!
When Ella posted her Red Lentils and Spinach in a Masala Sauce, I knew it was destiny. Destined to be my dinner. Turns out it was also my parents’ lunch when they came to visit last weekend. A last minute change of plans had them staying for lunch. Thankfully I had something that everyone could enjoy.
I made my own curry paste with toasted cumin and coriander seeds and combined it with ginger, cilantro, smoked paprika and garam masala. Tomato paste and pureed tomatoes made this a bit more complex and the cashew butter a more luscious body. Red lentils cook down into a mush and the spinach added a healthy bulk. A nice, solid curry. Tikka masala without the tikka? Probably not… this isn’t a super creamy sauce. Cashew butter can only accomplish so much! Next time, I might add in tempeh, like Rob did with his Tempeh Tikka Masala.
What are your favourite vegetables in the winter?
PS. Is tomato paste always so sweet? I licked some from the can and it was so sweet! My can is definitely no sweetener added, so I wonder if it is a side effect from my sweetener-free challenge.
After I ate the last serving of this salad, I was sad. Sad I had no more salad left. It was that good.
Rob cocked his head and asked, So is this a repeater recipe?
But we have no more corn! And no more spinach or lettuce! And I think my Appaloosa beans are finished, too.
That can easily be remedied, Janet.
Besides, I just bought 53 lbs of tomatoes (yes, I did it!)
I think I should focus on those!
So this one will just go down in the vault as a wickedly delicious salad. And contrary to my sorry excuses, this is a very forgiving salad. Use your favourite salad toppers. Just don’t skip on the tomatoes. And the dressing.
This salad all began with the creation of the raw eggplant bacon. I picked up a super cheap monster eggplant and earmarked it for the dehydrator. The salty and sweet marinade (tamari, maple syrup, vinegar, chili powder, smoked paprika and liquid smoke) was delicious and I couldn’t wait for them to dry out. Twelve hours felt like a life-time. I was blown away by the texture of the eggplant, airy yet crispy but sadly, with a fraction of the flavour from the salivating marinade. Since I used low-sodium tamari there wasn’t the uber saltiness associated with bacon but it was pretty nice, regardless. Does it taste like bacon? Not at all, but I don’t consider that a bad thing. ;)
I also used some of the extra marinade to make zucchini chips. Since I sliced them cross-wise, they looked like chips and tasted like bacon chips, too. However, those went into my belly. The eggplant bacon went into this salad. (For the record, I prefer the eggplant version!)
Obviously, this salad pushes monumental levels when you use fresh, ripe ingredients. Fresh heirloom tomatoes, check. Local, fresh corn on the cob, check. Cute heirloom pinto beans, I’ve got that covered. Your greenery of choice (or whatever is in your fridge): baby spinach. I added oomph to the original dressing by mirroring the bacon marinade, throwing in smoked paprika and chili powder. Lime juice makes this a bright dressing. And while I was worried I wouldn’t have enough dressing with only the juice from 2 non-juicy limes, after I placed everything in jars for the week, the tomatoes macerated, adding tomato juicy goodness to the dressing, too. Now it was perfect.
For another variation on the corn + tomato + bean salad, try this one with a balsamic dressing, toasted in a skillet.
This is my submission to this month’s Bookmarked Recipes, to Healthy Vegan Fridays, to this week’s Raw Food Thursdays, to this week’s Weekend Wellness, to this week’s favourite summer recipes, and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays.
I was all ready to share with you some tasty zucchini-centric meals this week.
However, my zucchinis were side-lined in the fridge once I went on a mission to find tomatoes. It is easy to find red imposters. You know, the things that look like tomatoes but don’t taste like tomatoes… but I wanted summer fresh tomatoes. My quest brought me to my closest farmer’s market where I quickly scurried from stall to stall, sniffing their tomatoes. Sniffing out the imposters.
All of a sudden, it hit me. Tomato. I smelled it. I found my winning tomatoes. Bright red smallish heirloom tomatoes that looked lumpy and stout. The flavour did not disappoint. I brought home 2 pints to make this risotto I had bookmarked last year, waiting for this summer’s tomato bounty.
Super simple to make, I can’t believe it has been so long since I’ve made a risotto. Dump all the ingredients into a pot, let it simmer until the barley is tender. Towards the end, I kept adding more and more stock until a creamy, yet chewy barley risotto was attained. Positively drenched in silky tomatoes, speckled with chunks of garlic, with a hint of lemon and thyme and a depthness from smoked paprika, this made a delicious end-of-summer meal.
Sadly, now that I have re-discovered barley risottos, I have very little barley left. I don’t plan on replenishing it, either. I suppose I will have to try out spelt berries risottos, instead!
Of course the real quandary is whether to buy a HUGE bushel crate of San Marzano tomatoes. A Portuguese grocer near my home is selling them for $19. I bet they would be wonderful all roasted and I could try my hand at canning. But could I eat my way through all of the tomatoes?
Here are some other whole grain risottos I have my eye on:
Rustic Rebel Risotto from Radiance 4 Life
Red Beet Risotto with Walnuts from Big Vegan
Easy Creamy Tomato Barley Risotto from Vegan Yum Yum
Creamy Barley Risotto with Thyme and Star Anise from Let Them Eat Vegan
Tempeh Orzilla from Post Punk Kitchen
Pesto Risotto with Roasted Zucchini from Post Punk Kitchen
Saffron Speltotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes from River Cottage
I have been patiently waiting for Rob to post our Colombia photos. I wanted to be able to share some of my photos and tips from the trip. The full albums from Bogota and Salento are here and the Lost City and Cartagena are here. I have included a few of my favourite photos, though.
We were in both hot and cold places, with big banana leaves and small mushrooms… and enjoyed a wonderful cooking class in Bogota.
This is my first Colombian meal I have prepared in my own kitchen- red beans with plantains. Although I will admit that I never came across this dish while in Colombia. Red beans, yes. Plantains, yes. Never together which is why I was intrigued to try out this recipe from Viva Vegan.
Who would have thought there would be even more beans that I do not yet have. I had to restrain myself from bringing home too many new beans from Colombia. I figured they may be more easily found once we move to the southern US, so I don’t have many Colombian bean souvenirs. The standard Colombian bean (that is not the coffee bean), is the bola roja. Another standard is the Cranberry bean (also known as Borlotti or Cargamanto), which I have cooked before. They are a bigger creamy bean although a bit dry. However, within my Rancho Gordo stash, I had Sangre de Toro beans which I used instead. Dense and almost chewy, they are Mexican beans that can be substituted for any recipe calling for red beans.
Here, the red beans are cooked with a sofrito of onions and red pepper, then spiced with smoked paprika, cumin and Mexican oregano. The plantain adds a hit of sweetness along with the red pepper sofrito. This recipe was more complex than what I learned at my cooking class, but I think I will also be revisiting my bona fide Colombian bean recipe, since it was so good. Next time, I will break out the bola roja beans! :)
I’ve been making a lot more simple meals lately (I promise to keep sharing the dressing recipes!), so by the complexity of this dish, you probably can guess that I made this for guests. Technically, my guests ate a Mexican Tortilla Lasagna and I made myself a Mexican Zucchini Lasagna!
The only difference between the two were the noodles. Instead of lasagna pasta, the tortilla lasagna used 9″ whole wheat flour tortillas and my version used zucchini instead of noodles.
Inspired by Susan, this is actually a relatively simple dish to make if you already have refried beans and enchilada sauce. I didn’t. So I turned to Radiant Health, Inner Wealth for a simple unfried refried bean recipe and Veganomicon for an enchilada sauce.
Basically, you create layers with refried beans, a chili-flavoured bell pepper and onion mixture, black beans, and salsa each separated by zucchini slices. Because I wasn’t using tortillas, to make sure my lasagna wasn’t a soupy mess, I lightly salted the zucchini and baked them for a few minutes to dry them out. As with most multi-component recipes, each part is as important as the next. Pick a flavourful salsa. Use a zippy chili powder. Savour the zesty refried beans, lime-spiked in all their glory. Repeat the layers a few times, then smother it in enchilada sauce. I found the original enchilada sauce recipe way too spicy for me (3 roasted green chiles, oh my!), so I ended up diluting it with more tomatoes and almond milk. Combined with the rest of the components, it worked well to balance the flavours.
I actually wasn’t even sure I would share this recipe… it was hard to keep photogenic when fresh. Once chilled as leftovers, it was easier to cut out a slice without it capsizing. Regardless, it still tasted good! :)
A new month, a new hospital.
Yesterday I was (slightly) complaining about my upcoming commute from our new home. After today, a 10-12 km one-way commute seems like peanuts.
A last minute change in scheduling has me rotating at a hospital outside the downtown core for April. My total commute yesterday was 37 km. Almost 2 hours on the bike. The day’s schedule was a bit more erratic than normal, but basically my cycling looked like this:
8 km from home to downtown gym (0700 spinning class!)
10 km from downtown gym to uptown hospital (UPHILL!)
10 km from uptown hospital to downtown hospital
8 km from downtown hospital to home
Thank goodness it was broken up over the course of the day, but it was likely the spinning class that had me sore by lunch.
Considering I just started cycling to work last week, this is quite the lengthy commute. While I have been going to the gym ~5x week throughout the winter, I always find new muscles when I hop back on my bike in the spring. I made sure to wear my padded cycling shorts. ;)
I decided to make Sunday my rest day from the gym to give me a fresh start on Monday. While Rob went to a spinning class, I was in the kitchen making this high-protein alfredo sauce with white beans, soy milk and roasted cauliflower. I bookmarked the original recipe from Jess but finally made it after Johanna also had success. My changes were roasting the cauliflower, onion and garlic with some hazelnut oil and combining that with the beans and soy milk. The lemon juice, miso, nutritional yeast and smoked paprika added extra flavour that worked well with the simple additions of baby spinach and sun-dried tomatoes to the sauce. This is a nice, comforting creamy dish. Creamy in the non-oily, non-heavy, guiltless sense, though. Perfecto! I tossed this with kelp noodles, but feel free to use your favourite pasta.
Why do I call this high-protein? Assuming you use the entire batch of sauce for 4 people (it makes a ton of sauce!), each serving has: 245 calories, 33g carbs (11g fiber), 14g protein and 8g fat. Gotta love the 2:1 carb:protein ratio! Perfect following all this cycling. :)
Two years ago, I never would have thought I would be doing commutes like this. When I started biking to work, my (one-way) commute was 4 km. Because I was essentially sedentary, I thought that was far. When I switched to a downtown hospital, my commute was 7 km, at most. When I moved out East with Rob, my commute was 8 km. When I move out West, it will be 10-12 km depending on the hospital. Having the gradual increase in distance has made this become second nature, instead of daunting. It is definitely my preferred way of traversing the city – a fun way to exercise, a great way to de-stress, faster than transit, and better for the environment. Jen recently shared this fun pic about commuting with me, which definitely reinforces why I don’t drive a car to work.
With all this cycling, I imagine I will be ready for our cycle to Niagara Falls in no time, although I am trying to figure out a better way to combine my time at the gym and commuting to work so I am not on my bike 2 hours every day!
This is my submission to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Ruth, to this week’s Weekend Wellness, to this week’s Potluck Party with high-protein vegan meals, and to this month’s Bookmarked Recipes.
Good news! Rob and I will not be homeless come May 1!
Having been thoroughly spoiled in our current home, we tried to balance what we wanted with our new place. Turns out we were wooed by suburbia. We are currently living at the East end of the city of Toronto, and will be moving all the way to the Western-most outskirts of the city of Toronto. My daily cycling commute will change to 9 km, which will probably be around 35 minutes but I have yet to try it out (still faster than transit). While we aren’t exactly thrilled with living in a cookie-cutter community, what we do appreciate is living in a 10-year old home that has been well-kept by the current owners (never before a rental!), a space for me to hibernate for studying purposes and the real bonus was a garage for us to keep our bikes. No more storing the bikes in the dining room! The kitchen is also pretty nice, roomy and complete with a gas stove (and a dishwasher!). Don’t laugh, we contemplated living in a few places without a dishwasher- it is more common than you might think.
What we’ve sacrificed for this gem of a house is basically location. Not only are we an extra 2km from downtown, but the subway is 2km away, necessitating a bus or street-car ride on rainy days. While I have located my new health store for my tempeh and dino kale fixes, sadly Sunny’s and Better Bulk are now quite a hike. Travelling East/West in midtown Toronto is definitely not very efficient, so I think I will have to plan for grocery shopping primarily at No Frills instead (cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes, anyone?). I am actually looking at this as an opportunity to force myself to eat through my pantry. Eat all my beans before we trek out to Texas. I can replenish my stash from Rancho Gordo once we settle there, hehe. ;)
To celebrate our impending moves, I decided to make a Mexican bean dish. This time simply spicy, citrus black beans. I changed Elise’s spicy citrus black bean recipe slightly, but the nontraditional Janet-ism was adding the spinach because I wanted some greens. Omit it for normal Mexican beany uses. My other changes were taming the spices, using only Aleppo chile flakes and smoked paprika, but feel free to add chipotles in adobo or whatever floats your boat. I also increased the lime juice and added in orange zest for more pronounced citrus flavours. The citrus paired incredibly well with the heat from the beans. This is definitely one of my favourite solo bean recipes to date.
Rob likes to have dinner themes for his birthday parties. Last year, it was Japanese.
We had planned on going Ethiopian this year, as it is the theme of our current neighbourhood. However, we changed our minds at the last minute because I wasn’t in the mood to cook up 5 different cooked dishes.
While I can dream up menus for days on end, they involve vegan dishes. Rob knew that some of our guests might balk at the lack of meat, so he offered to make a Southwestern Pulled Brisket in the slow cooker. With his meal chosen, I crafted the remainder of the menu with it in mind.
Therefore, this year it was a hodge podge of Southern US and Mexican dishes, foreshadowing our next, next move to Texas in 2013. My (not so) discerning palate can’t tell the difference between Texan and Carolina BBQ styles, but I can tell you how delicious everything turned out.
I was initially hesitant, but Rob encouraged me to try my hand at jackfruit carnitas. We had all the fixings for great tacos for the brisket, so why not have another filling, too?
I eventually settled on a recipe for Carolina BBQ-inspired pulled “pork” from Jessica.
Jackfruit is a fruit from Southeast Asia. Rob tells me it tastes like bubble gum. While the ripe fruit is sweet, you can buy canned young jackfruit in brine, which is quite flavourless. It has been used as a meat substitute due to its texture. After being cooked, it pulls apart into stringy bits akin to pulled pork and beef brisket.
While Rob’s brisket took 8 hours in the slow cooker, my BBQ jackfruit pulled “pork” took an hour, tops.
They key of the recipe is the spice blend, and here we used a plethora of spices to capture a Southern BBQ flavour: sweet smoked paprika, Aleppo chili flakes, mustard, tomato and red pepper pastes, tamarind and vinegar for some tang and sweetness from the maple syrup (yes, that’s 4/8 of my favourite ingredients in one sauce!). Such a glorious BBQ flavour with a bit of a kick. Chile heads, again, feel free to use the suggested cayenne, but I though it was plenty spicy without it. Dry frying brought out the flavours from the dry spices, then a slow simmer expanded the saucy flavours. Baking it firmed up the jackfruit so that it was more akin to pork.
As the jackfruit bakes, or if you are more inclined to make the brisket (it had rave, rave reviews, btw, and Rob loved its sheer simplicity to prepare), make some pickled red onions. I know many people shun fresh red onions, and a quick marinade in vinegar with some salt and sugar can really bring out their flavour. We used the recipe suggested by Deb.
Both the brisket and BBQ jackfruit pulled pork was served with an assortment of toppings – shredded Romaine, chopped tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, sliced cabbage, avocado and the pickled red onions. While we had roti and pitas for guests, I opted to make wraps with Romaine lettuce leaves. The jackfruit was so flavourful that you didn’t need so much per wrap. While Rob’s 3 lbs of beef brisket easily fed 10 people, my 20 oz of jackfruit served more like 2-4 people, depending on how many toppings you added.
Knowing my aversion to restos but Rob’s appreciation of them, Rob and I have been slowly visiting vegan-friendly restaurants in Toronto. Our favourite raw restaurant has now been usurped. Raw Aura serves delicious food, but we seem to leave the resto filled to capacity with their rich meals. It is probably our fault – there is no need to order a starter and a main, here. Let alone a juice or dessert*, delicious as they all are. The dishes are heavily based on nuts, seeds and oils, which is why we always are stuffed afterwards.
*desserts are not Raw Aura’s forte
Our new favourite raw resto is Belmonte Raw. Closer to home, to boot; although their hours are terrible, only open for lunch. They’ve only recently opened up shop as an eat-in eatery and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our meals. The cozy place is a bit confusing, though. You pick your meal from the refrigerator case from stacks of take-away containers. You bring it to the cash and they will literally transform it into a beautiful meal. I honestly marveled at how much food came out of such a small container.
In any case, I really enjoyed my raw burrito (and Rob, likewise, enjoyed his sunflower burger). My burrito was a huge collard wrap stuffed with jicama fries, sprouts with their nut meat (it may have been sunflower seed based but I forgot to ask). When I say stuffed, though, this was a great veggie-heavy wrap which is what I loved! The nut meat was a highlight, not the main part of the dish. Along with the wrap, there were dehydrated corn chips with salsa, guacamole and chipotle nut cheese. The nut cheese is uber smooth and scarily reminded me of cheeze whiz! Taste and colour.
After eating the burrito, more jicama fries and a smoothie, we were both positively stuffed but in a good way, knowing that we ate primarily veggies and not heavier nuts/seeds/fats. Somehow we still managed to eat their delightful raw chocolate desserts. So smooth, with either a raspberry or peanut butter filling.
Of course, I was itching to duplicate the meal at home. One of the main drawbacks of Belmonte Raw are the prices, which goes with a visit to most restos. I figured that if I spent the same amount of money on grocery produce, I could whip up quite a few burritos. This gave me enough incentive to close my eyes at the price when I bought some sprouts at Whole Foods. Thankfully the rest of the ingredients were much cheaper: my weekly raid through Sunny’s was where I picked up the bunch of collards ($1.59), lemon (4/$1), and jicama ($1.49/lb) – all at their regular prices. I have yet to see sprouts at Sunny’s and should really learn how to grow my own.
Other than fresh veggies, my creativity lied with the cashew nacho cheese. I spiced it with red pepper paste, miso, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, sweet smoked paprika, garlic and onion for maximum flavour. (Chipotles in adobo sauce still scare me). It does not disappoint. Use it as a fabulous dip, or spread into a “raw burrito” such as this one filled with julienned lemon-spiked jicama slices and mounds of sprouts (I used alfalfa and sunflower sprouts). My burrito was not as big as the one at Belmonte Raw. They needed a string to keep everything in place! I made smaller ones and used a sliver from the collard stem to keep them together for the photo. I would skip that entirely if eating right away – it was quite a tricky thing to tie!
I started writing this before Christmas after I wrote my Gift Guide with my Favourite Kitchen Gadgets but never got around to finishing it. I have had quite a few people ask me where to buy Aleppo chili flakes recently, so I thought it would be nice to highlight some of my favourite ingredients in the kitchen.
One of my favourite things to give or receive are new ingredients. I enjoy having a cupboard filled with isoteric ingredients, although it sucks when you will be moving as often as myself. For gifts, though, I have one main caveat: they must be non-perishable (at least until opened) because fridge space is prime real estate in my kitchen. Furthermore, for all those ingredients, I have to know what to do with it! Part of my pleasure is a massive search to find the new best recipe, but if you are sharing an ingredient that you already love, gift it along with your favourite recipe. (more…)