With the bright summery weather, I am thinking of doing a Raw Thursday series for the summer. A bonus recipe each week… Let me know what you think!
There is crack and then there are crack crackers.
Healthy, vegan crack.
I was honestly hooked on Mary’s Crackers for a while.
(In the US, the crackers are called Mary’s Gone Crackers for good reason!)
Then I said, enough is enough! Let me make my own
I started by making a sweet flax cracker with cinnamon and dates but wanted to tackle something savoury, too. This multiseed cracker, courtesy of Sarah, boasts not only ground flax but also hemp and chia seeds. This cracker base was great because it was so much easier to spread than the flax-only cracker. It was more airy and flaky, too, compared to the Mary’s Cracker prototype. The flavourings are, of course, up to you.
I was itching to recreate Mary’s caraway flavour, which was simple. I also made a version with za’atar that was perfect with my go-to hummus.
My favourite cracker of the bunch, so far, is this pizza cracker. I spiced them with garlic, onion, rosemary, nutritional yeast as well as red pepper paste (a roasted red pepper or tomato paste could be substituted). The slight tang from lemon juice evened out the flavours just slightly.
If I thought Mary’s Crackers were addictive, now I know making my own crackers can be equally as addictive.
What flavour will I create next?
I like Angela’s suggestion to add kelp and Herbamare. Do you have any suggestions?
Before this blog goes Indian for the rest of the month, let me share this delicious warm Mediterranean salad. I know it isn’t potluck or BBQ season yet, but I already know this will be my go-to summer salad for sharing.
This salad is so good that I have no reservations serving it guests. Delicious slightly warm but equally good as leftovers brought up to room temperature.
Of course, please double the recipe if making it for a group. I don’t know who wouldn’t like a warm chickpea and spinach salad filled with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and lots of herbs.
It reminded me a lot of my favourite Warm Chickpea and Artichoke Salad which pan-sears the artichokes and chickpeas into a glorious dish. This salad, courtesy of Tess in The Two Week Wellness Solution is lighter in flavour since the chickpeas are braised with the onions, garlic and herbs and the tossed with the artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes. You could keep this simply as a bean salad, but I liked the contrast of the warm (or room temperature) bean salad atop the fresh baby spinach. This salad has the perfect ratio of beans to other stuff. Be mindful not to evaporate too much of your braising liquid since it becomes your dressing.
Here today, gone tomorrow.
A high of 22°C on Sunday, but only a high of 3°C yesterday. Ouch!
Let me share with you something that will not be disappearing so fast… my lovely surprise from the garden:
KALE! My kale is back! I swear, it is almost bigger than when we harvested it in the fall and it is not even April yet. I thought we had removed the roots, too, but I guess not, because little kale plants are popping up all over the garden. The Vates Blue Curled Kale is definitely a keeper. :)
Sadly, the kale will be our legacy gift as we won’t be able to enjoy it this summer (moving!), although I may be able to eat baby kale salads before we leave.
Now, the question for the gardeners out there. What is this plant? Is it a beet?
Last year, Rob and I diligently watered a plant all summer, thinking it was kohlrabi. We waited until the plant was nice and big because we thought it was a root vegetable. I eventually pulled it out to see what magical vegetable was hidden underneath….. except there was nothing there. We had been watering a weed!! We were very sad. But this doesn’t look weed-like to my virgin garden eyes (too pretty, no?)… and I don’t want to pull it out yet. We planted heirloom beets and kohlrabi in that area last year but nothing really grew. Our chioggia beets were gourmet: baby beets, not more than an inch in diameter in the fall (hehe). Please let me know if you have any ideas because it doesn’t really look beet-like or kohlrabi-like to me.
Back to the kitchen: Once I had the energy to cook after returning from Vancouver, the cold weather had me wanting a warming and comforting savoury dish. Angela’s Cozy Millet Bowl certainly hit the spot. Filled with sauteed rosemary mushrooms and kale overtop millet, this tasted rich without any heaviness. My changes were simmering the millet in broth, omitting the oil (since I was using a nonstick pan), decreasing the rosemary (just because I didn’t want to pick my plant clean), decreasing the tamari (1 tbsp of tamari is salty enough with the broth) and omitting the cornstarch. It wasn’t thick and creamy like a typical gravy but it was rich and savoury without hurting my belly (no grease, please). If you like a thicker sauce, add the cornstarch. I loved the thinness so that it trickled down to coat the millet. The worst part about this recipe? I wish I had made more!
Anyways, please help me with my garden query… else I may just rip it out in a month due to curiosity. Unless you tell me it is a weed, and I will rip it out tomorrow. ;)
Would you go to a steakhouse for an upscale vegan experience?
It seems so counter-intuitive, eh?
I was hesitant, though. Could a steakhouse really have great vegan food? It turns out that they recently hired Doug McNish, Raw Aura‘s former vegan chef that catapulted raw food into my dream books. He added a complete vegan menu at Prime, so I was confident that this would not be subpar vegan eats.
I priced out their Winterlicious menu. It turned out it was cheaper to pick from their standard vegan menu than to limit oneself to the vegan options on fixed price menu, especially since there was overlap between the options.
I opted to try the wild mushroom and pearl barley risotto with crispy sage and truffle oil as a starter. It was decadent and delicious. It was also rich and filling, so I decided to pace myself and take half of it home. Rob tried the nori rolls stuffed with a creamy ginger dill sunflower seed pate but we didn’t find them that exceptional.
For our mains, I happily munched on the herbed portobello mushroom and tempeh burger which was the highlight of the night. I have never had such a flavourful veggie burger. Unfortunately, the sweet potato fries were subpar, even after I asked for fresh ones since mine were cold. They also forgot to give me the sun-dried tomato aioli, but I am glad I reminded them because it was really good with the burger.
Rob had been pining over the cornmeal crusted tempeh steaks, spiced sweet potato coconut mash, steamed greens with caramelized onion and cherry tomato relish but we both found it lackluster. I suppose we’ve been spoiled by great vegan eats from Blossom Cafe, Candle 79 and Pure Food and Wine in NYC.
For dessert, I was salivating the vegan Mango Cheesecake with a Raspberry Coulis. When I packed my risotto earlier, I wanted to make room for this dessert. However, it was bad. It was uber sweet but in a dry icing sugar kind of way. Turns out, I can make a better version at home anyhow (remember those Mango Paradise Bars?)
I enjoy raw food because the flavours really pop. At Prime, although their meals are not raw, their tempeh burger had great flavours mingling together which is what captured me into the dish. Here, these mini burgers are flavoured with shiitake mushrooms, sage, rosemary, garlic with bulk from pumpkin seeds and sweet potato. They don’t require a long dehydration time since you want to maintain some moisture. Don’t have a dehydrator? I bet they could easily be baked for 15 minutes or so but I can’t say for sure.
I ate my sliders as mini sandwiches with a slice of tomato as the base, followed by a bed of alfalfa sprouts. The slider was then topped with a smear of avocado with a touch of salt. Delicious!
Thanks for all the encouragement guys after my last post. The comment didn’t phase me too much as I know when my recipes turn out well… I love being able to share that same joy I experience, hence the blog and hence hosting meals with friends.
Sometimes I feel like I am on a roll in the kitchen. A week filled with great dishes, each one working out perfectly.
And then, it dries up.
Last week, I did the unfathomable for me. I threw away food.
Over the Christmas holidays, I made homemade sauerkraut. I scoped out pickling salt after my grandmother’s insistence and followed the recipe to a T. 5 pounds of cabbage with 3 tbsp of salt. Nothing fancy. No seasonings. After its first night, it needed a bit more liquid to completely cover the cabbage, so I added some more salt water. I used a (very heavy) car battery [long story how I have that…] to really pack the cabbage down. And then I waited.
It said it would take 4-6 weeks.
After 2 weeks, it started to grow mold on the surface (also known as scum or bloom). Which I removed. Apparently it is normal?
Another 2 weeks went by, more scum. The cabbage tasted like cabbage. Not even that salty.
After another 2 weeks, the scum was making the house smell. I knew sauerkraut could make a house smell, but I figured it would smell like sauerkraut.
The cabbage still didn’t taste like anything more than cabbage in a muted salty broth. Six weeks in, no change and lots of mold. That’s enough.
So it got tossed.
I am a sauerkraut failure.
Oh well, I will have to shell out the big bucks for the really delicious Bubbie’s sauerkraut instead.
What else has been going on in my kitchen?
Sadly, my lackluster results were mostly the meals I had picked to share with friends. I hate it when that happens. Although I know I am my harshest critic when serving others.
I made the White Bean Farro Soup with Chickpea Parmigiano from Terry’s new cookbook. The soup itself was pleasant and my guests really enjoyed it (moreso than myself). It became more special when you added the chickpea flour parmigiano which added a lemony tang to the soup. The soup ended up improving as leftovers and Rob adored it atop his weekend besan chilla.
A few days later, I made this soup, a Roasted Garlic and White Bean Soup that I modified from Jessica. Like the last soup, this one didn’t wow me either. I always have high expectations when people say this was the “best dish ever”. I don’t think I seasoned it properly but it was still good. Just not GREAT. I liked the chunky yet creamy roasted garlic and white beans (I used marrow beans from Whole Foods). I omitted the nutritional yeast since my go-to vegetable broth powder includes nutritional yeast (I use Tess‘ delightful Chicky Baby Seasoning, by the way). I think kale would be better, but I substituted collard greens since they needed to be used.
And lastly, I made Sarah’s Split Pea Sunshine and Saffron Soup. I didn’t even photograph it because it turned an ugly murky green after being pureed thanks to the (unpeeled) kabocha squash. The soup had such promise- split peas, kabocha squash, carrots, leeks and a host of savoury spices including saffron. I even made the cute (but labour intensive) sunshine carrot cut-outs!
I used red split peas for the first time (courtesy of Whole Foods in Mississauga) and it took over 4 hours before they softened for my liking. It was gorgeous before I threw my handheld blender in there. That’s when the flecks of green were pretty. It was also pretty tasty in the little spoonfuls I tried. But the blender muddled the soup – in looks and taste, unfortunately.
Hopefully your cooking adventures have been better! :)
Any tips for homemade sauerkraut??
While in NYC, I ventured to the Greenmarket Farmer’s Market at Union Square. As I drooled over the fresh produce (there were the most beautiful bundles of kale), I had to find my dinner. I ended up buying a farinata to go. The farmer told me it was one of his most popular items. Unlike my socca, which was a thin chickpea pancake with toppings, this was a thick slab of a crustless chickpea tart (almost an inch or more thick) with the toppings integrated right into the farinata itself. It wasn’t my best meal. In fact, it was my meal low-light since it was rather dry and crumbly. However, it inspired me to make something even better upon my return back home.
I bookmarked Ricki’s quizza (a chickpea flour-based quiche-pizza hybrid) this summer and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for: a thick slab of pie, creamy instead of dry, filled with my favourite veggies. Rob continues to experiment with the Besan Chilla, the Indian Chickpea Pancakes, and throws all sorts of vegetables into the batter (baby bok choy, red pepper, carrot, etc) and even kimchi. Quiche is equally adaptable to a multitude of fillings.
I went with Mediterranean flavours when I adapted Ricki’s recipe: zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach spiced with garlic, rosemary, basil and oregano. Plus, with a nod to the Besan Chilla, I added black salt for an egg-like taste. Next time, I may add some olives or caramelized onions, too.
I love how versatile chickpea flour can be be. In the Besan Chilla, you have a pancake texture, with the socca it is more firm and here, you definitely have a creamy consistency. Definitely better than the farinata from the market. Plus, I can easily make this at home while cleaning out the vegetable odds and ends. Definitely a win-win situation. :)
Next up on my chickpea flour to-try list: Candle 79’s Chickpea Crepes.
This is being submitted to this month’s My Legume Love Affair, hosted by Kiran, to Ricki’s Wellness Weekend, to this month’s Breakfast Club featuring eggy breakfasts and to this month’s Bookmarked Recipe.
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.
While I have baked beans in the middle of the summer, during the biggest heat wave of the summer, no less, I actually try not to use the oven in the summer. The Mango BBQ Beans, which appeared a few times this summer, were perfect because they were cooked on the stovetop. Why would I want to heat up my home with the oven when I am actively trying to keep things cool at the same time?
Last week, it was still summer; this week it is definitely fall. The lows at night were 6C and I was worried about frost in my garden. I kept adding more layers each morning as I froze while riding my bike to work. I am sad to say that I think I brought winter home with me from Iceland. :(
Since I ate primarily raw while in Iceland (courtesy of a fabulous resto, Glo, right across from our hotel in Reykjavik), I was craving comforting, homey dishes upon my return. Thankfully, I had some meals that I had frozen before we left for vacation, and Rob eagerly whipped up a batch of dal bhat.
When my jetlag finally subsided enough that I was ready to tackle the kitchen, I peered into my bean collection, glanced out at my garden brimming with herbs, and figured a light, lemony, baked bean dish was in order.
Bright and summery with the herbs and lemon, zippy from the chili flakes, yet comforting with the creamy white beans, this was a perfect dish to throw into my oven on a lazy weekend afternoon. The house smelled great, the kitchen warmed up and my belly was decidedly content.
Baking the beans allows a more even cooking temperature that results in creamy beans, but also roasted the garlic and herbs together into a sultry sensation. I modified Kim’s recipe to use the herbs in my own garden and used less oil, but this is completely malleable to whatever strikes your fancy. Pick your favourite herb or herbs. I was a bit perplexed about the baked lemon, but in the end, I kept it with the beans and found I could eat it, too, seeds and all!
Now, when I can buy local corn picked that morning. As corn sweetness degrades by the hour after picking, it is best to buy fresh and to eat it soon after.
Just like fruit, fresh sweet corn is best with minimal adornments.
At the party, because the barbecue was hot real estate, I opted to boil the corn. But this weekend, when Rob and I bought a dozen ears of corn, we wanted to try to grill the corn.
For such a simple procedure, even boiling corn, everyone has their preferred method. When is boiled corn ready? When the water turns yellow… Just take it out after 10 minutes… Instead, I went with Rob’s aunt’s advice to take it out after you could pierce it easily with a knife. Nicely done. The corn was so sweet, no butter or salt was needed.
For grilling the corn, there are also numerous ways to tackle the job. If you want to keep your kernels juicy and plump, grill it with the husk intact. If you want it more dry and charred, grill it with the husk removed (check out this video by Mark Bittman).
This time, Rob and I experimented. We soaked our corn, dehusked the corn (or would that be husked the corn?), then removed the silk. You can then grill them, unadorned, with a hint of that smokiness from the barbecue. Or, go slightly more upscale with your favourite flavourings.
Here, we tried a delicious garlic-rosemary grilled version from Ashley at the Edible Perspective. We mixed together some olive oil with minced garlic and fresh rosemary, slathered it on the corn, re-wrapped the husk around the corn and grilled away. Plump, juicy corn with garlic and rosemary infused right into the corn.
What are your favourite flavour combinations with grilled corn?
I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday weekends, be it celebrating July 1 or July 4.
I was telling my Mom about my low-key Canada Day plans….
Well, first we went grocery shopping…
WHAT?!, she exclaimed. All the grocery stores are closed here.
True, the big chain grocery stores were closed on Friday, but that didn’t stop Sunny’s (or Bestwin or even T&T) from being open. Sunny’s, my current favourite grocery store, is located in Flemingdon Park, the Toronto neighbourhood with the highest percentage of immigrants (67% of its residents, with 23% recent immigrants). Sunny’s advertises over 10 languages its staff can speak, and it truly offers a multicultural grocery experience. Due to its local clientele, the prices are great and the produce is fresh. And it was open on Canada Day. Hourray for me!
BBQs are in full swing now at our place, even though we are still living out of boxes. Rob has chosen to take full advantage of the barbecue, grilling up various kinds of meats for guests, whereas I typically reign in the salad department. I have revisited some of my old favourites, and of course, tried out a few new ones that will be shared shortly, including this lovely warm leek and white bean salad.
White beans are combined with caramelized leeks and smothered in a light mustard sauce. I was mostly inspired by the recipe from Waitrose since I adapted it quite a bit. I increased the amount of leeks, used dill instead of parsley, added in lemon pepper and simplified their mustard dressing. I like how creamy dressing can get with mustard alone!
You can bring your bean salad to the next level by cooking up your own beans with complementary flavours. Here, I opted to cook my own flageolet beans in vegetable broth and rosemary for additional flavour. Cook up more beans than you need, freeze the extra with the stock and you can whip up another tasty white bean salad in a heart beat. Tinned beans would work too, if you haven’t yet converted to cooking your own beans (I had a hard time locating dried flageolet beans in Toronto, let alone canned flageolets, though!).
While you could use any white bean (cannellini/white kidney, Great Northern, or even something smaller like navy or black eyed pea, etc), after delving into my heirloom bean collection, I have realized wonderful novelty beans can be! The first bean I tried was the green flageolet. I found it locally at Rube’s Rice in the St Lawrence Market, so thankfully I can easily replenish my pantry (instead of outsourcing my supply from the US!). Flageolets are smaller white beans, but deliciously smooth and creamy. They are commonly used in the French cassoulet, but here, they make this salad shine. I look forward to trying other ways of using these delicious beans over the summer.
I have been branching out a bit from recipes lately. Experimenting, pushing the boundaries, using recipes as guides. I am learning more what can be changed and what should not and thankfully soups, salads and sandwiches are very forgiving. :)
After gobbling up the last of my Spicy Artichoke Heart Dip, I knew it could be used for more than just a dip. It would be a delicious spread. Even simply as an antipasto, but I wanted to combine flavours.
Red pepper, check. To roast or not to roast? Not to roast.
A bean perhaps? Chickpeas? Nah, let’s go with tofu.
Tofu is a blank slate, so an Italian-inspired lemon-rosemary baked tofu seemed like a good complementary panel of flavours.
But then the question, how to assemble? Tortillas? Nah… I rummaged in my cabinet and found rice paper rolls. I should probably be scared of food that is still good years after I have bought them, but do not fear the rice paper roll. Only fear them as leftovers, because they don’t like to be eaten the next day.
So, the first day, I assembled the ingredients into fresh rice paper rolls. The next day, I deconstructed the roll into a salad. I just stuffed the spinach, red pepper, tofu and dip together in a container and brought it to work as a salad. The dip was silky enough to coat the spinach as a dressing. The tofu made it a satisfying main meal. And while I didn’t photograph it as a salad, that was probably my preferred, least stressful way to eat it.
But really, do not fear the rice paper rolls.
(Don’t worry, this time I actually used rosemary!) :)
Sometimes all I want is a nice, big bowl of soup. Something fresh and light yet filling enough for a meal. My belly screams for something simple and nourishing.
Enter this delightful soup adapted from Orangette. It is a tomato soup at its core, light-tasting with the sprinkle of sugar mellowing the acid from the tomatoes. I used less vegetable broth than Molly, but it was the right consistency for me (even still a bit thin for me). The rosemary adds an interesting twist, but is not an overpowering flavour. And then you add in chickpeas, which is why this is such a deceivingly hearty soup. Half are pureed, creating bulk for the soup. The other half are left intact for mouth feel. Delicious.
Sometimes simple is all you need.
I was apprehensive about making this recipe on a weeknight. However, when I told Rob about my top three options for dinner, he encouraged me to try the Rosemary Lentils over Polenta from Supermarket Vegan.
You see, I have made polenta before – a creamy, smooth, polenta with a roasted red pepper coulis – and it was delicious. However, it took me (well, technically, my brother who was over that day) 45 minutes to get the polenta to the right consistency. I didn’t really feel like stirring polenta over the stovetop after I came home from work. But I decided to forge ahead anyhow…
Low and behold, instead of grabbing the coarse cornmeal, I took out the fine cornmeal. And if there ever was instant polenta, this would be it! Within minutes, it had firmed up and was ready to set. Granted, this polenta was not nearly as creamy as last time (that recipe had used milk and a smidgen of cheese, but I am sure the coarse cornmeal had something to do with it). But in this case, I didn’t really mind. The firm, garlicky polenta contrasted nicely with the soupy herb-infused lentils. Just like the texture contrast in the Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew, the play of textures worked very well together. It wasn’t mush on mush, it was soup on firm. ;)
However, there was one casualty when I cooked mid-week. I thought I was making Rosemary Lentils. A few days later, I realized I had made Thyme Lentils, instead, as I grabbed the wrong herb and my brain didn’t say ‘stop! this isn’t rosemary!’. This also might explain why the flavour was a lot more subtle than I had anticipated. However, it was exactly what I wanted. This was not a flavour explosion; sometimes I need the quiet, too.
This meal is great post-holiday indulgences. The lentils are light and fresh and the polenta is hearty and offers a nice balance. The leftovers were great with a little zap in the microwave, although the lentil stew was less soupy.
Continuing with the nut theme after muhammara, here is scrumptious nut, roasted pepper, tomato-based sauce teamed with chickpeas. Romesco sauce is a popular Spanish sauce from the Catalan Tarragona province and the variations are endless depending on whether the sauce is served as a dip, with vegetables, meatballs, fish, etc. The New Spanish Table, an enticing, Spanish cookbook, has 4 different recipes of the romesco sauce as each is tweaked to its accompaniment.
The sauce reminds me a bit of muhammara as the main flavours are roasted red peppers and nuts. The Romesco sauce has a heavier comforting tomato presence and the use of almonds is a bit more creamy than walnuts. As I prefer cooking vegetarian at home, I was excited to try it with chickpeas when I saw Joanne posted it on Eats Well With Others, who had adapted it from Veganomicon.
I wasn’t disappointed because the Romesco sauce worked wonderfully with the inherent nuttiness of chickpeas. This comforting dish is great year-round as canned tomatoes were easy to use before the juicy, ripe ones are available locally. I roasted my own peppers which added some time, but it was a fabulous, easy meal served alongside rice.
One mention about portion sizes, as I am still working my way through leftovers (which are really tasty, too). The original recipe says serves 4-6 but it really makes a lot of food. I’d gather around 8 servings. It could be due to the bigger cans of chickpeas in Canada (19 oz compared to the 15 oz in the recipe) and I also threw in an extra red pepper. Although this is not the first time I have run into discrepant portion sizes. I blame it on the bigger “super-sized” American meals! Has anyone else noticed this? As much as I loved it, I might half the recipe next time unless I am feeding a crowd.