Sunday, October 21, 2012

Easy Bebere Kale! Vegan MOFO Post #8

This picture has nothing to do with the post. But isn't my kitty cute???

My dear friends Stacey and JJ are both adept at creating quick and easy recipes that are delicious and super healthy. Stacey's lunches inspire me every day and one can get oodles of lipsmacking recipes from her. (See JJ's wonderful lemon artichokes to get an idea...)

This recipe is one that has become a staple in our house. And it was really popular this summer, as I planted tons of kale, which we continue to harvest from the garden. You need:

olive oil
apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper

Berbere is an Ethiopian spice mixture. I've never actually bought it myself, as Stacey got a big stash from a friend from Ethiopia and gave me a couple of containers of it. But I'm sure you can buy it at an Ethiopian restaurant. There's also a recipe here on Epicurious. 

First buy one or two bunches of kale. The kale below is Curly Kale, freshly picked from our garden.

Rinse it really well, particularly if it's from the garden. I tend to check each leaf very carefully to make sure there are no visitors.

Then you simple grab the stalk with one hand, and with the other you just rip off all the leaves in one fell swoop. It's satisfying! You can cut the stems up if you like, as they are perfectly edible, but I'm a bit lazy and just compost them.

Rip the remaining pieces up into smaller bits. (But not too small.)

Cut up a few cloves of garlic. (I usually do 2-3, but do it according to your taste.) Saute the garlic in some olive oil on medium heat.

Add the festive kale. It will be take up a lot of volume initially, kind of like the tulle under those wild old-fashioned dresses, but keep turning it over and stirring it into the garlic and oil and it will cook down pretty quickly. I will usually add a bit of water -- a few tablespoons - to keep it from getting dry.

Here's the pretty berbere. Isn't that color gorgeous?

 I lightly add it to the kale. I've probably used about a quarter teaspoon or so here.

Keep stirring the mixture around. Here you can see it's cooking down, but there are are still sections that are dry and need to be incorporated. Keep going it until it's cooked down but still bright green.

Take it off the heat. Add a little pepper and salt to taste and about 1 or 2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Stir it all up.

When you take your first forkful, you will doubtless feel a sense of wonder, as your taste buds begin to sing music you didn't know they knew. At this point, you will want to hold up your wine glass and make a toast to Stacey and JJ for bringing this new incredible dish into your permanent rotation. Life will never be the same. (You think I'm joking? We both crave this stuff and probably eat it every other night.)

Below is a particularly tasty dinner of the Berbere Kale, my invented squash/sweet potato/apple/walnut thing, and Soy Chorizo Black Bean Stew over rice. (The latter is from The Vegan Slow Cooker, a book that has been making walking into the front door each night very rewarding.)

What's your favorite way of cooking up greens fast?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Cure for the Aisle Three Blues: Vegan MOFO Post #7

Our fridge. Payton, the turkey we sponsored last Thanksgiving; our cat butt magnets, a lovely housewarming gift from Ms. Tufts; and the thing that keeps me from going over the deep end -- our personal shopping list.

Raise your hand if this is you.

You go to the supermarket, perusing the different aisles and buying what is on your list. And then -- dang -- you realized you forgot such-and-such in aisle three. So you trek back through the crowds, colliding with other carts and politely letting others through.

You so meant to get here earlier today when there were no crowds, but so-and-so called and then you had to do that thing that you've been putting off. And then, of course, you had to go to that appointment at eleven that you scheduled four weeks ago. And, you sheepishly admit to yourself, sleeping in this morning didn't help either. (Apologies to all the parents out there who are now understandably rolling their eyes at the couple with no children.)

Before you knew it, there was no other time to go to the market than NOW. And NOW is exactly the time that everyone else decided to go to the market. (They had the same kind of unfolding day.) The last thing you want to do is to have to retrace your steps and go back to aisle three.

Can I have a Hallelujah?

After enough trekking backwards to aisle three in my life to cover the length of the Massachusetts Turnpike, I decided to make a grocery list that actually made sense. I don't like my precious weekend time eaten up by retracing my steps. There are gardens to dig! Movies to see! Games to play! (And yes, a house to clean and all that, but who wants to think about the boring stuff? A post devoted to food shopping is bad enough.)

To make a more speedy shopping trip, I mapped out in my mind the best walking route through my favorite supermarket (one end to the other, in a winding, snakelike fashion). Then I listed the groceries I normally buy along that route. After a month of tweaking this list of items, I came up with a shopping list that allows me to get into the store, do my thing FAST, and then get out in record time, allowing me to resume my weekend.

Notice that this is the same list, done twice. That way, I just print several copies, cut them in half, and then stick them on our fridge with a strong magnet, so they're ready to go whenever we need them.

I created it on my Googledocs account (or you can just create a Word document) and then shared the document with my husband. So now it's online where we can access it, edit it, and print it from anywhere. If you'd like a copy, leave a comment below with your email and I'm happy to share the document with you. (I won't enable the "edit" function for you, but you can just copy it and paste it onto a new document and then revise the whole thing for your eating preferences and store layout.)

Another thing I find helpful is to write the week's menus on the blank side of the shopping list and then when I'm done shopping, I hang the menu on the fridge so I can refer to it throughout the week. If I'm using a recipe from a cookbook, I list the cookbook intials and the page the recipe is on, so I don't have to hunt for it later in the week when I'm hungry and grumpy.

Sorry these are so out of focus! I have much to learn about photography. But this is an example of the list filled out. 

And this is the flip side of the list, showing our weekly menu with cookbook initials and page numbers. (As you can see, I cooked a LOT from the Vegan Slow Cooker cookbook this week.

What sorts of timesaving tricks to you use to make life about living and not about backtracking? (These can be kitchen-related or otherwise.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Indian Stuffed Okra: MOFO Post 6

This is my Dad. Nicest guy you'll ever meet.

He also happens to be a clever cook -- one of those enviable people who can randomly scout out the fridge and cupboards and then invent some delicious and artful concoction. I didn't inherit this gene.

On occasion, though, he does resort to cookbooks. Or cookbook, I should say, as I've only ever seen him using one. (There may be others, but I can't call them to mind.) This particular cookbook was bought, I believe, after he returned from his Peace Corps service in India. It's yellowed. It's tattered. It's long been out of print. And it's actually held together with a rubber band. But, boy, the food he makes from this book is go-oo-ood.

Sorry for the out-of-focus view.  As you can tell by the cover, it's not a vegan cookbook, but there are some tasty vegan recipes in there!

Last weekend, Ryan and I went down to Dad and Mary's (my stepmom since I was in third-grade!) because my Uncle Tom and Aunt Sane (sah'-nee) were in town from Stockton, California. Tom is the kind of uncle who taught us nieces and nephews raunchy (but kid-friendly) songs, took us to waterparks on chilly nights, and coasted the car down steep roads with us kids in the back squealing with delight. He also told us a very convincing version of The Hooked Hand before going down a winding dirt road into the woods. I don't think my cousin Sarah ever recovered from that.

Sane is quieter than Tom and has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. If you're not listening carefully, you could miss one of her funny quips, which are always uttered matter-of-factly under her breath. The kind of quips that make you snort almond milk out your nose.

She's also a looker.

For our laughter-filled reunion dinner, my Dad made Stuffed Okra, a vegan curry, and a chicken curry. (Ryan and I are the only vegans in the family. For now.) :) It was a drizzly and cold evening -- perfect for spicy food!

For your viewing pleasure, here is the simple recipe.

You need:

1 pound okra
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

First you wash the okra.

Vegetables really know how to look good.

Then you mix the spices up in a bowl. (Or a measuring cup, if you're feeling adventurous like my Dad.)

Make a slit in the side of each okra pod and spoon some of the mixture in.

Heat the oil in a seasoned pan. (Dad is the iron-skillet seasoning MASTER. He can find the rustiest pan in a yard sale and turn it into a gleaming professional looking pan in about a week.) Place the okra in the pan and squeeze lime juice over all the okra, like a lime shower.

Then you cover it (or not) and cook on low heat, according to the directions. But my Dad used medium high heat. (See? He's insane. But it works.)

This is what it looks like when it's done.

And this is what it looks like all pretty on the plate.

My dinner!

Stuffed okra is so savory and makes my mouth very happy. Not one piece remained. You'd think it would be kind of dry with all the spices, but it isn't. You've got to try it to believe it.

Tom, the uncle every kid should have.

Sane, on the verge of a one-liner.

Mary and I chillin' in the kitchen. Why do people bother building living rooms? We all end up in the kitchen anyway. 

I'm sad that Tom and Sane flew back home. I wish they lived closer. Things always feel complete with them around. :) Anyhow, I hope you get to try this! And if you do, let me know how it goes!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Autumnal Comfort Food: Vegan MOFO Post 4

The other day I spied some adorable Delicata squash in the market and decided to bring one home to try. The evening I tried it out turned out the be one of those rare nights when I got creative in the kitchen and the resulting recipe actually tasted amazing! (What usually happens is that I taste it, think "huh," and eat it anyway, so as not to waste the food.)

I cut open the squash and scooped out the seed/mush part. After slicing it up, skin and all, I threw it into a glass pyrex pan and scoured the kitchen for other things to put in, as the squash looked a little bare and lonely. I thought of the Granny apples I'd bought which were a smidgen too sour for even my taste and realized that the sour might be good balanced by brown sugar. So I cut up one apple and threw it in. (Again, peel and all.)

That sweet potato over in the corner -- you know, the one that languishes in your own kitchen -- had been eying me for weeks. (Get it?) It looked a little scary, though, and seemed to be growing vines. It had apparently assumed I wasn't going to do squat with it and was planning its escape. I tentatively snagged off the growth, peeled it, sliced it open and -- exhale -- it was perfectly good. It got chopped into large pieces and thrown in.

I added maybe a Tablespoon of olive oil and two Tablespoons of brown sugar and mixed it all together. Into the preheated oven it went (425 degrees). And off I went to figure out what my next post would be.

Ten minutes later, I thought, "Walnuts!! That thing needs walnuts!"

I quickly chopped some up, opened the oven door, and carefully, oh-so-carefully, dotted the dish with them and stirred them so they'd get coated with the oil and sugar. I closed the door softy, turned around, and spied some pears that had finally ripened after well over a week. I cut one up, re-opened the door, and added them to the growing pile of food.

I didn't time it, but it was all ready in close to half an hour. (If you're going to do this, though, I'd put your timer on for 20 minutes and then check it every 5 minutes or so after that.) The whole house smelled like holiday. It was the scent that Yankee Candle would give their eyeteeth for, but never quite achieves. I just wanted to breathe in that smell permanently, in a therapeutic kind of way. You've got to try this, if only to get this aroma to permeate your home-sweet-home.

Fresh out of the oven and sizzling...

Is it dinner? Or is it dessert?

Then I whipped up a quick and simple massaged kale salad. You wash and rip up the kale (taking the woody stems off), throw on a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh lemon juice, and then use your hands to literally massage the oil into the leaves for about two minutes.  It will reduce in volume pretty quickly as the leaves become more pliable.

This is the kale, post massage.

I decided to add some nuts to the salad to satisfy that autumnal fat craving. Any toasted nuts would be good. I was strongly leaning towards sliced almonds, but the pine nuts won. When you toast these babies, DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT walk away from them. They're a splurge and it's much too easy to burn them. (I'm just sayin'.) Simply throw them into a small pan with no oil. None. They actually have oils in them that seep out pretty quickly and do the cooking for you. Turn the stovetop on medium to medium-high heat. 

Initially they look like this.

But in about a minute, you'll see the oils come out and they'll get shiny.

Every thirty seconds or so, just swish them around.

And when they look like this (slightly browned), you're good to go. They'll look like this in about four minutes or so.

I decided to throw and apple and some avacado on the salad too. Why not?

Speaking of apples, about ten years ago I lived in a little town in central Bolivia called Yotala. It was there that I learned one of life's most important lessons from my best friend Margarita Manzano (Spanish for "apple"). I will pass it on to you. I'm sure it will change your life as it changed mine. Here it is.

(dramatic pause)

Never pick the pretty fruit. 

Margarita (or Marga, as we all called her) lived on the same street as I and, together with her mother and sister, owned a small store in front of her house, which is how I met her passing by one day. They made the best bread around -- people would drive for miles on weekends to come buy their bread -- and one day she saw the strange pale gringa walking by and called me over to enjoy some bread with her. From then on, we were best buddies. I used to even go to her house on bread-making days and help them make the rolls to put into the enormous outdoor mud/clay oven.

Oh dear. I'm rambling and way off topic. Back to the point.

During orange season, I started to pick out some of the more fault-free fruits from her store to buy and take home. She watched my progress, then came over, shaking her head, and muttered, "You Americans. Always picking out the prettiest fruit. Don't you know that the best fruit is the ugly stuff?" She threw my perfect specimens back, grabbed one of the more scarred ones, sat my down at her small wooden table, and expertly began cutting the orange open. (Bolivian women can do magic with the seemingly most cheap of knives.) She handed me a dripping, sloppy piece of the fruit. The second the piece of sunshine hit my tongue, I'd realized what a fool I'd been. The pretty fruit had nothing on this.

To this day, as I pick fruit, I always look for the scarred pieces. Not bruised, mind you. But the ones covered with blemishes that ordinary folk see as unattractive. Never judge a book ... 

Here is a Honeycrisp, topped with blemishes.

And Kaci with the apple, just because.

Here is my final dinnerplate, complete with a magnificent (and simple) risotto I made from The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hestor.  (Get. This. Book.) The dinner was not only wonderful, but a great reward for my courage to take culinary chances, after so many past failures. :)

Finally, I'm going to throw some product placement at you, because I think it might make cleaning up a whole lot easier. Whenever I cook pine nuts, I always find the pan is stained a bit brown. The best way to get that off is to use this cleaner, Bon Ami. It's a scouring powder, but it does not test on animals and it doesn't have a strong odor. (When I used to use other scouring powders, I'd have to hold my breath, because the fumes made me feel a little lightheaded.) And it's the same cost as the other powders too. I absolutely love it. (And no, they are not paying me to say that. At least I don't think they are.) :)

Bon Ami -- a great scouring powder. Get it.
What sorts of make-it-up-on-the-spot recipes have you done that were winners?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Deceptively easy grilled eggplant: Vegan MOFO Post 3

Eggplants, in my gardener's heart, are one of the loveliest foods you can grow. Truthfully, I only knew two ways of cooking them in my "pregan" days: as a centerpiece in Eggplant Parmesan and also folded into my Dad's Indian Chicken Curry recipe. And yet I have continued to grow them anyway, because it was such a delight to watch their progress, much like witnessing a living painting. I tend to check on them every day in the summer just to marvel at them.

Here are some lovely babies that grew in my garden this year and last.

Early summer, the eggplants are just peeping out their little heads.


They come in so many shapes and sizes.

If you listen hard enough, you can hear them giggle as you lift the leaves.

Eggplants are native to the Indian Subcontinent, which includes the countries of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Wherever I've traveled (unfortunately never to these countries -- yet) I've always sought out the markets to stare blissfully at the eggplants and the hot peppers (a post for another day). France was no exception. I lived there for 9 months back in my early twenties and knew them there as "aubergine," which builds off the french word "alberge," which is an apricot. Like apricots, eggplants are fruit, though we often lump them into the vegetable category. They're also in a class of fruits called "nightshades," which I purposely never looked up because I love the romantic images it conjures up and don't want the scientific information to mar up my poetic thoughts. In English-speaking countries, we came up with the name eggplant, since several varieties do resemble the eggs of a chicken.

Last year, I had the best intentions to cook up my healthy harvest. Alas, it was one of the many fun tasks I never found time to do. And they all ultimately found their way to the compost pile. "NOT THIS SUMMER!" I vowed. And true to my word, I tried a very simple recipe which kept me satisfied all summer and allowed my crop to escape waste: grilled eggplant.

I feel funny even posting it because it's so darned simple. But I feel it's my responsibility to share because it's died-and-gone-to-Heaven-good. Though Ryan still does not enjoy eggplant (it's a texture thing for him, I think) he has often been good enough to grill the eggplant for me, as grilling is one of his summer pleasures.

The eggplant we grew was typically long and slender, so we could just make one slice in the center and they were ready. If you have a larger eggplant, I'd recommend slicing them into 3/4 inch-wide pieces.

Then you can paint them with some olive oil on both sides. (I'm continuing with the living painting analogy here.)

It's hard here for me to focus on the eggplant, when my favorite person is looking so camera-ready.

Throw on some kosher/sea salt and pepper all over them.

And then you throw them on the grill. I think it was a medium-ish heat. Just grill each side a few minutes until it starts to look cooked. You want the inside to be soft.

Here's the final product, ready to eat, skin and all. My mouth is watering looking at this. When you bit into it, the eggplant kind of melts in your mouth and has a very round, satisfying taste that pleases the whole palette.

We (I) enjoyed the eggplant for dinner with a salad that came from the garden (except for the canned cannellini beans), corn on the cob, rice with peanut/tahini sauce, and Swiss chard (cooked up with a teensy bit of oil, lots of garlic, barely a brush of salt, and some cider vinegar splashed in at the end).

As I said, this is an easy eggplant recipe, but the taste is unbeatable. Sometimes all you need is a little olive oil and salt to make the true flavors shine. I really hope you try this, because you'll have a new favorite to throw into your routine.

What are some old stand-bys in your routine?