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…)
My Mom doesn’t think I should post recipes that I don’t eat myself. I have to trust others to tell me how it tastes but I can tell you how easy it was to make. Although even Rob and I can disagree on whether we like a dish, considering both Rob and my parents liked the Tel Kadayif, the Turkish shredded phyllo dough dessert, I deemed that a quorum for a good recipe. And with its stupid-easy simplicity, definitely blog-worthy.
This is another dish I made for others at a party, with no intention of eating myself. In fact, I had planned to use half of the stuffing for the phyllo rolls, and just eat the remainder of the filling myself, without the phyllo dough. Somehow, though, I just kept wrapping the phyllo rolls and by the time I looked down, there was no more filling left. Plus, we were already late for the party, so we brought half the rolls with us and left the other half at home to bake later.
These Moroccan phyllo rolls were so good that I ended up eating them for a few meals.
The filling was very nice, filled with roasted vegetables (zucchini, red pepper, onion and fennel) and spiced with all my favourite savoury Moroccan flavours – ginger, paprika, cinnamon and cumin. I have become scared of roasting veggies with spices, so I added the spices to the veggies right after they were finished roasting. The dried apricots added a touch of sweetness and weren’t overpowering in the slightest. The fresh basil added a nice twist, as well. While the original recipe from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan suggests serving these more like a strudel, because this was for a party, I made them into little appetizer phyllo triangles.
These are nice as is, but let me tell how you awesome these rolls are with the Balsamic Maple Sauce. The sauce was so simple to put together, yet filled with flavour. It didn’t even seem like a lot of dressing but a little bit goes a long way. Actually, refrain yourself, because too much sauce could easily overshadow the subtleties of the rolls.
I still have some sauce leftover and wondering what else I could use it with… Dreena suggests drizzling it over steamed veggies, baked sweet potato or using it for anything that needs to be dipped. Sounds like a good plan!
Split pea soup is underrated. Oftentimes, vegan authors are almost apologetic for including split pea soups in their cookbooks.
If you have a bland split pea soup in your cookbook, then, yes, you should feel ashamed. The folks at Rebar need not be worried, because their split pea soup is fantastic. In my notes next to the recipe, I wrote “silly good” and a few of my adjustments (smoked paprika for the chipotle puree, and yellow instead of green split peas). Do you write in your cookbooks? I feel kind of dirty doing it, but it is the best place to keep your notes!
Like most beans dishes, the spices and seasonings are integral to the final dish. Paired with the sweet peas, you add roasted garlic, smoked paprika and liquid smoke. Carrot, too. And while I added 1/4 cup of fresh sage, it wasn’t a dominant flavour. All the flavours mingle so well together, it creates a soup with different levels. This is definitely a soup I will warm up to again this winter.
Grain bowls are easy to make. Pick a grain, slather with some dressing and top with your favourite veggies, nuts and seeds.
Try to pick a theme: like this sushi bowl with brown rice, topped with asparagus, avocado and toasted nori sheets. Or my millet bowl, topped with cooked spinach, leek and toasted pumpkin seeds. Or my more recent Dragon quinoa bowl, topped with roasted veggies in a miso gravy.
This time, I wanted Middle Eastern flavours and picked a broccoli salad as the base and topped it with baked quinoa falafels, finished with a drizzle of a tahini-miso sauce!
Let’s dissect the anatomy of my bowl:
1) Broccoli Base. I prefer lightly steamed broccoli, so I steamed large florets for a short period of time. I cut them into small pieces after they had cooled.
2) Quinoa Falafel from Whole Foods to Thrive. These were definitely the star of the bowl. These baked falafels are made with cooked quinoa and flax and spiced with miso, tahini, nutritional yeast, onion, garlic and oregano. After broiling them, they are nice and crispy on the outside and chewy, yet soft and creamy on the inside, loaded with tons of flavours. I don’t like greasy, dense falafels, so these nuggets were perfect for me.
3) Tahini-Miso Sauce from the Cheesy Broccoli Bowl from Whole Foods to Thrive. The dressing for this salad is addictive, although I wouldn’t call it cheezy. It has a more pronounced tahini-miso flavour but still delicious. I opted to toss half the dressing with the broccoli and reserved half for the falafel. I preferred the dressing when I could taste it in large amounts, so next time I may not even dress the broccoli and simply drizzle it overtop prior to serving.
I had all intentions of making this with my home-made harissa, but when I found it again in my fridge, it had grown some mold. I guess I was a bit skimpy on the oil used to cover it? Who knows… I will have to investigate another way of saving it. Perhaps in the freezer, frozen in ice cubs trays like I save pesto? I didn’t have time to make more harissa, so I substituted my Aleppo chili flakes instead.
I was drawn to Susan’s recipe at Fat Free Vegan when I saw a nice medley of end-of-summer vegetables (zucchini, tomato and eggplant) with chickpeas simmered in a flavourful sauce including smoked paprika, allspice, cumin and cinnamon.. and (the missing) harissa. I prefer currants to raisins (texture issues, mainly) and they still added a subtle sweetness to this lovely vegetable ragout. I initially served it with the garlicky quinoa, but later gravitated to serving it overtop chopped Romaine leaves, turning it into a delicious salad. It worked surprisingly well!
While I have posted a few eggplant dishes, I have never microwaved it like I did here. It was a neat way to partially cook it without any oil. It also didn’t have any of the bitter aftertaste people can complain about. When it was combined with all the other veggies in the delicious sauce, you almost didn’t even know it was there.
Returning from vacation the day before you return to work is not a good idea. Jet-lag was one reason it took me so long to get back into the groove after returning from Iceland.
Thankfully, I was forward-thinking and froze a bunch of meals before we left. I had dal bhat waiting for me upon my return as well as this delicious Iraqi-Inspired Eggplant and Seitan Stew from Susan at Fat Free Vegan.
Just like dal bhat, this was a savoury, comforting stew. Filled with warming spices like nutmeg, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin and cardamom, you have a winning combination with silky yellow split peas and chunks of seitan in a pomegranate-infused sauce. I modified it only slightly by using liquid smoke and substituting Aleppo chili flakes for the larger chilies.
I have made seitan, or wheat meat, once before as chorizo sausages. This recipe is neat because you make a batch of seitan specifically for this recipe. The results are chewy nuggets admixed within the cooked eggplant and split peas. A nice play of textures with a definite protein boost.
This was a delicious stew to return home to, especially since it was so cold upon our return. Curl up with a bowl of stew any day you need some a virtual warm hug from a bowl.
I know you’ve heard me lament about resto food.
When I first moved to Toronto, one of my favourite restaurants was Fresh. A vegetarian restaurant serving nice salads and wraps. I have since found their dishes hit or miss and usually a miss unless it is the grilled veggie and pesto burrito. Please do not try their soba noodles! A soggy mess that disgraces Japan. However, their sweet potato fries with the miso gravy never disappointed and have rightfully been voted the top sweet potato fries in Toronto.
For the BBQ, I made a variety of seasonings for the sweet potato fries. I tried a batch with garlic, lemon pepper and smoked paprika, adapted from a recipe from Radiant Health, Inner Wealth, a batch with a Moroccan spice blend including cinnamon and cumin (somehow my spices went too toasty for my liking [aka burnt], so I didn’t serve them), as well as a one with simple salt and pepper. Other then the Moroccan batch, both turned out great. I really liked the roasted bits of garlic with the sweet potato fries.
At Fresh, the sweet potato fries are lightly spiced with sea salt, basil, tarragon and rosemary, but the winner was the miso gravy. Creamy and salty, it is a perfect match for the sweet fries.
Thankfully, the folks at Fresh are happy to share their (not-so) secret recipe, with it appearing both in their cookbook and online in the Toronto Star. It took me a while to crack out the recipe, but I am delighted I finally did! My guests discovered the miso gravy also worked well with the grilled chicken, pork tenderloin as well as the salad. What wouldn’t taste delicious with a miso gravy?
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.
Salads can be costly.
I’m not talking about the lettuce, or the vegetable toppings, or even the dressings…
I needed to buy a bigger pannier for my bike when I started to eat huge salads at work. One container for the lettuce, another for the toppings and another for the dressing. It takes up a lot of room, but the fresh salad is definitely worth it.
Last year, I lamented that my Mexican salad with the creamy avocado dressing needed to be eaten soon after assembly. Once dressed, lettuce doesn’t last that long (more the power to wilted kale salads!). This year, when I spotted a tomato-based Mexican salad at Namaste Gurl, I was smitten. Her salads were gorgeous and while her tomato-based dressing seemed quite unorthodox, it sounded delicious. If I kept all the components separate, I knew I could enjoy this salad all week long.
Sauces and dressings are what clinch a meal. Fresh, tasty produce helps, too, but oftentimes the dressing pulls it all together. And in this salad, the dressing is what really shines. It is a light, silky smooth tomato and red pepper sauce with a hint of cheese from nutritional yeast, smokiness from smoked paprika and zip from the chili flakes. Cumin and oregano keep this Mexican. You could add your favourite vegetables to the mix, to replace the cabbage, but I highly recommend the red pepper which conferred a sweet silkiness to the dish, almost as if it were roasted. I have never pureed my tomato sauces, but this dressing was so creamy because I used my immersion blender to make it smooth. The sauce was so good, I had to stop myself from gobbling it up straight from the stovetop.
Instead, I held out to use it as the dressing for this Mexican salad with black beans, cherry tomatoes, and avocado overtop mixed greens. Be creative with your toppings – add in some whole grain crackers, fresh bell pepper, cucumber, etc. Romaine worked well with this combination as well. I bet there are countless things this sauce could be used for, and I am sure I will whip it up again when I make my first batch of zucchini noodles!
After the early bedtime on Sunday, I thankfully got my mojo back in the kitchen! My brain and body got the rest they needed for me to become prolific in the kitchen once again.
The next day, after work, I tackled the rest of my week’s menu which included this smoky tempeh and chard stew, adapted from Appetite for Reduction. It came together seamlessly, as I prepped while things steamed, fried and simmered.
I obviously decided to make this stew last week, when we were in the midst of heavy, dreary rainy weather. It was a hearty stew, and after a few tweaks, filled with ingredients already in my kitchen when I didn’t want to head out to the grocery store. Unfortunately, by the time I made it (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), the weather turned around completely. This week we have been enjoying sunny, bright days with highs around 18C. Perfect, spring weather. More akin to spring salads, but this smoky tempeh stew still tastes great.
It is a lovely, hearty stew. It is filled with a tomato-based sauce with a smokiness coming from sweet smoked paprika. Carrots are added for additional flavour and you have a good nutritional punch from Swiss chard, or your favourite green. In fact, I liked using the stems from the Swiss chard for additional crunch (don’t discard the stems!). Tempeh is steamed, then fried to get a crispy coating, and added for an interesting texture and source of protein. While the original recipe called for frozen lima beans, I used frozen shelled edamame instead. Together, we have a winning combination of a hearty, healthy and filling stew. Perfect for the winter, or rainy days, but I am certainly not complaining about the wonderful spring weather that has finally arrived.
Tomorrow I am heading home for the holidays. It will be spent with great family, food and friends.
And as I wonder what dishes I could make when I am home, I remind myself that no one likes mushrooms!
WHAT?! Can it be true?
I wasn’t really introduced to the foods my parents don’t like.
Boiled beef (my Mom loves it, though – I have no interest in ever trying it!).
Fair enough, my kids will never have to suffer through eating celery.
Myself, I was a late bloomer towards mushrooms. I started with an affinity for shiitakes, and then fell in love when I tried enoki mushrooms. Shimeji are a nice woodsy, hearty mushroom, as well. Portobellos were always a nice meaty, treat. Then there’s the oyster mushroom, which tasted like seafood in the barley risotto. (Fair enough, I discovered my love for these wild mushrooms at the same time I found T&T!). I still shun the typical button mushrooms, especially if raw, but recently wanted to try yet another mushroom: cremini.
Truth be told, cremini mushrooms are the same as portobello mushrooms. They are baby portobellos. Once they reach 4-6″, they have graduated to portobello heaven. They are similar to button mushrooms in shape, but taste-wise they are meatier – they are more dense with a deeper flavour.
I was intrigued by Michael’s recipe for a Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew on Herbivoracious. He chose to use thick, quartered cremini mushrooms, that were browned. Because the mushrooms were thick, they kept their chewiness but were still slightly crispy on the outside. These flavourful mushrooms were paired with lentils with a hint of smoked paprika and a sherry vinaigrette, and topped with a light, sour tomato-basil salad.
I enjoyed the combination of flavours, of textures and of temperatures. The lentils were smokey with the paprika but the vinaigrette and tomatoes were sour; the lentils were smooth, the mushrooms chewy and the tomatoes crisp; the lentils and mushrooms were warm, the tomatoes cold. You look at the ingredient list and notice how deceiving it looks. It worked really well.
And now onto the winner of my first giveaway from csn stores. Congratulations to Janice who likes to make a noodle and vegetable soup. It sounds delicious. Let me know if you don’t get my email, Janice.
This is my submission to this round of Blog Bites 9, holiday buffet, potluck-style!