Monday, November 19, 2012

Making Unusual Vegan Pies

When contemplating dessert plans at this time of year, one’s mind naturally turns to thoughts of pie. Just like cookies at Christmas and cake for birthdays, pie is the dessert most associated with Thanksgiving, and with autumn in general.

Pie is often considered a little bit intimidating, though.  And that’s a shame because it’s actually one of the most forgiving desserts as far as dietary modifications are considered.  It’s no harder to make a vegan pie than a regular one, and the same goes for a sugar free one.  Even gluten free is pretty doable. 

Pie is also amazingly versatile.  Different fillings can make for a very wide variety of desserts. And when you make your own pie from scratch, you can widen the pool even further by designing some truly unusual (even unique) pies.

Here are a few unusual pies I’ve made lately that might make an interesting addition to your holiday meal.

Ground Cherry and Rhubarb Pie
Ground Cherry and Rhubarb Pie

Ground Cherries
Ground cherries are supposedly common on the east coast, but this was the first time I’d ever seen them available locally, so I couldn’t resist pie-ing them up. Ground cherries are a funny little fruit that looks like a miniature tomatillo and tastes like a gooseberry. Combined with rhubarb they made for a very distinctive, tangy pie.

1 ½ cups ground cherries, husks removed and rinsed
4 ½ cups rhubarb, chopped
1 ½ - 2 cups sweetener or sugar
¼ cup flour
1 Tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom

1/3 cup flour
2 ½ Tbsp ground almonds or other nuts
½ cup oats
1/3 cup sugar or sweetener
½ tsp cinnamon
dash each nutmeg and cardamom
1 or 2 dashes salt
3 ½ Tbsp oil

1 pie crust

Ground Cherry Rhubarb Filling
Prepare fruit and mix with other filling ingredients. If the mixture looks overly dry, drizzle in a couple tablespoons of water.

Prepare topping by whisking together dry ingredients, then mix oil in with your fingers until it looks like clumpy wet sand.

Pour fruit filling into pie shell, then sprinkle topping over top.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes, then cover with foil and bake 25 minutes more.

Zucchini Cream Pie (Mock Coconut)

Zucchini Cream Pie

This one was really interesting. It tastes quite a bit like a coconut cream pie, only very light and refreshing. Some people like to use a light golden zucchini or summer squash in order to be sneakier, but I don’t mind people knowing they’re eating zucchini, and the little flecks of green are pretty.

2 cups grated zucchini (a little more or less is ok)
1 12 oz box form silken tofu
1/3 cup soymilk (or coconut milk, if you like)
½ cup flour
1 cup sweetener
1 tsp coconut extract
½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg (plus dash)
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp shredded coconut

1 pie crust (graham cracker/ginger snap crust is fine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Puree tofu with all ingredients down to salt in a food processor. Pour into a bowl and stir in half of the zucchini.  Pour into pie crust. Sprinkle rest of zucchini on top and press down lightly to submerge. Sprinkle coconut on top and top with a dash of nutmeg.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until golden brown.

Easy Hand Pies/Turnovers
Turnover, filled with gooseberry jam and dried cranberries

These are an awful lot of fun for how simple they are. The playing with dough part might be good for kids to try.

1 can ready to bake vegan biscuits (any homemade rolled biscuit dough recipe works too)
about 2/3 cup jam or preserves (any flavor—sugar free works too but will ooze a bit)
about 1/3 cup raisins, dried cranberries or other bite sized dried fruit

Flour for rolling
Soymilk for brushing
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Pop the can of biscuits. After flouring your board and rolling pin, roll each biscuit out until it is an approximately 5-inch diameter disc. Place about 1 tbsp of jam in one half of the center of each dough disc and sprinkle with a few pieces of dried fruit. Wet the inside edges of the disc and fold over.  Crimp edge with a fork to seal.  Poke a few holes in each turnover with a fork or knives. Place turnovers on a cookie sheet (parchment lined would probably be best). Brush them lightly with soymilk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20- 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Easy Hand Pies/Turnovers

Incredibly Fancy Vegan Pumpkin-Sweet Potato Pecan Streusel Pie

This is for when a regular pumpkin pie won’t do. I’ve had people who hate pumpkin take a look at this pie and say, “Boy I wish I liked pumpkin pie, because that looks so good.” I won’t say that it will convert the haters—the pumpkin is not at all hidden here, if anything it’s emphasized. But I will say that the pumpkin and pecan both enhance each other: the candied pecans jazz up the pumpkin (which is sometimes bland) and the pumpkin tones down the somewhat sickly-sweetness that standard pecan pies are a bit prone to.

Pumpkin-Sweet Potato Pecan Streusel Pie
Pumpkin-Sweet Potato Pecan Pie

2 1/3 cups pumpkin puree (most of a 30 oz can)
1 cup peeled, diced and cooked sweet potato
1 12 oz package firm silken tofu
1 ¼ cup sugar or sweetener
2 ½ Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cardamom
dash allspice
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp coconut extract
¼ tsp salt

1 cup chopped pecans, plus 8 halves for garnish
2 Tbsp maple syrup (or sugar-free pancake syrup)
½ tsp cinnamon
dash salt

¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¼ cup ground pecans
1 tsp cinnamon
dash salt
¼ cup oil
½ vanilla
1-2 tbsp water
2 tbsp quick oats

1 pie crust (graham cracker or ginger snap crust works great)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Puree all the filling ingredients—you will need to do it in batches. Pour into crust and bake for 30 minutes.

Pumpkin-tofu filling

Meanwhile, stir together chopped pecans with syrup, cinnamon and salt. Make the streusel by whisking together flour, ground pecans, cinnamon, and salt. Drizzle in oil, vanilla, and water while tossing with fork until it looks like crumbly wet sand. Stir in oats.

After 30 minutes, pull out the pie. It should be somewhat firm and a little browned on top. Sprinkle the chopped maple pecans over the top, leaving a 1½-inch ring bare around the edge. Sprinkle the streusel over the ring around the edge of the pie. It’s fine if the streusel overlaps the pecans a little. Take the whole pecans, swirl them around in the residue of the chopped maple pecan bowl to coat them slightly. Arrange the whole pecans in a pretty pattern on the top of the pie. Bake for another 20-25 minutes.

Putting the pecan topping on (before the streusel is added)

Let cool at least a few hours before attempting to cut. Will store well for a couple days.

Variations:  You can of course leave off the pecan and streusel toppings for a plain pumpkin pie.

You could also make either a straight pumpkin or sweet potato pie instead of combining them. A butternut squash pie would be nice too.

Other nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds could be used in place of the pecans.

Note: To cook a fresh pumpkin or squash for a pie:  cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and strings, and bake it cut side down for 45 –60 minutes at 350 degrees F, until it is easily pierced by a fork. Then just scoop the flesh out of the skin and run it through the blender. It may be a little bit runnier than the canned puree. You can compensate for this by adding an extra tablespoon or two of cornstarch or by reducing it—simmering the puree on the stovetop until it is thickened and concentrated.

By the way, not all pumpkins are equally suited to pie making. Small pumpkins often have better flavor than giant ones, which are watery. Some kinds are specially bred for sweetness and flavor, such as Sugar Pie Pumpkins. Others are bred for looks and size and are quite bland.  At the farmers market you can ask the vendor if a particular type is good for pies. You could also research particular varieties—there are a number of heirloom varieties that have their proponents.  Taste is subjective, though, so you might not agree with others’ opinions. It’s probably best to experiment for yourself.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Well, I had a nice low-key Halloween this year. We stayed in and ate vegan chili dogs and watched old scary movies. It was fun.
Vegan chili dog

Carob covered walnuts
We had a couple of treats too: pumpkin bread and carob covered walnuts. I thought I’d share the recipe for the former below, and as for the latter, it couldn’t be simpler: Just melt carob or chocolate, stir in some nuts, then just dump the whole thing onto wax paper and spread out and separate with your fingers. Then let harden for about 15 minutes. It’s quite a bit faster and easier than trying to dip the nuts individually and tastes just as good.

Pumpkin spice bread
Pumpkin Spice Bread

Dry ingredients:
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup oat bran
1 cup sugar or sweetener
1 tbsp chia seeds or ground flax seeds (optional)
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp dried orange zest
½ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp coriander
¼ tsp allspice

Wet ingredients:
1 ½ cup pumpkin puree (one 15 oz should cover it)
1/3 cup oil
¾ cup soymilk
2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp maple extract

2 tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger (optional)
a handful of dried cranberries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk together all dry ingredients, including spices. In a separate bowl, stir wet ingredients together. Combine two mixes, taking care not to over-mix. Add cranberries and ginger if using.

Spray a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Pour batter into pan and bake for about 55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out fairly clean.

You could change the add-ins, replacing the cranberries and ginger with raisins, nuts or chocolate chips.
Coconut might be interesting too.

You could also use another pureed fruit or vegetable in place of the pumpkin, such as mashed sweet potatoes or bananas or apple or pear sauce.

Pumpkin bread slices

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pear-Almond Crisp

Here is a nice autumn dessert. The almonds and pears’ mild flavors combine beautifully for a very delicate dessert. I happened to have a counter full of rapidly over-ripening pears, so a giant crisp was in order, but feel free to halve the recipe if you lack such a bounty.

Don’t peel the pears—the peels contain a fair amount of the pears’ flavor and aroma, and also help with structural integrity.

Pear Almond Crisp

Pear-Almond Crisp

Fruit filling:
About 12 pears (depending on size)
2-3 tsp cornstarch (more or less based on ripeness of pears)
4 tsp lemon juice
¼ tsp vanilla
dash of cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar or sweetener
2 Tbsp crystallized ginger, finely chopped

2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup oats (I used quick oats)
1/3 cup almond meal
2-3 Tbsp slivered almonds
2/3 cup sugar or sweetener
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom
1/3-1/2 cup oil
½ tsp vanilla

Mix together all the dry ingredients for topping. Stir vanilla into 1/3 cup of oil and drizzle into dry ingredients while tossing with fork. Squeeze and toss with fingers until mixture looks and feels like crumbly wet sand, adding some or all of the rest of the oil if necessary.

Cut pears into half inch slices, then cut slices in half into chunks. Chop ginger and set aside. Whisk together rest of filling ingredients and gently toss with pears. Spray a 9 by 13 inch baking pan or casserole dish with cooking spray.  Pour pears into baking pan and spread out. Sprinkle ginger evenly over top, then sprinkle on topping mixture.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Makes 12 generous servings. 

Two Vegan Pesto Recipes (and how to design your own)

Pesto is one those foods I never tried before going vegan, and it made a pretty big impression the first time I did.  Pesto is a rich, intensely flavorful sauce made primarily from a combination of herbs, nuts, and oil. The difference between traditional and vegan pesto recipes is generally the inclusion of parmesan cheese, which can be substituted for with extra lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a higher proportion of nuts. Nutritional yeast may also be helpful.

I like to decrease the fat by replacing some of the traditional oil with warm water.  This makes the sauce a little lighter, which means you can eat more of it. And that's good thing, because you’ll want seconds once you taste it. : )  

Vegan Pesto Sauce

Parsley Walnut Pesto

5 cups fresh parsley, roughly chopped
2/3 cup walnuts
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp minced garlic (more or less to taste)
1 Tbsp oil
1-2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
up to ½ cup warm water (or more oil, if you like)
salt and pepper to taste

Waiting in the food processor
Place parsley, nuts, lemon juice, garlic, yeast, and 1 tbsp oil in food processor or strong blender. Puree until fairly smooth. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Start the machine up again and drizzle the water (or oil) into the chute slowly while food processor is running. Stop when you reach a soft spreadable consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Kale Almond Pesto

1 large bunch kale
1 cup almonds
¼ cup lemon juice
1 heaping Tbsp minced garlic (more or less to taste)
1 Tbsp oil
1-2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
up to ½ cup warm water (or more oil)
salt and pepper to taste

Wash and de-stem kale. Steam or microwave kale until it turns bright green and tender. Place cooked kale, nuts, lemon juice, garlic, yeast, and 1 tbsp oil in food processor and blend. Pour in water or oil slowly while machine is running, scraping sides once or twice. You may need less water/oil depending on how much water the kale absorbs while cooking, so go easy.

Now that you have pesto, what do you do with it? The most common way to serve it is over pasta, preferably a shape with lots of crevices to catch sauce in. It can also be used in sandwiches, particularly grilled ones, and makes an excellent pizza sauce. I’ve also seen it used in various salads, including potato salad and cold pasta salad.

My favorite pesto meal is curly pasta tossed with pesto and Italian flavored white beans:

Italian Flavored White Beans

2 15 oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 tsp oil (more if you like)
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tsp minced garlic
½ tsp Italian seasoning
¼ tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and heat until warm in microwave or on stovetop
If you like, you can pre-sauté the garlic in the oil before adding the rest of the ingredients, but it’s not totally necessary.

Toss with pesto and your favorite pasta.
Pasta with Pesto and White Beans


Traditional pesto: Using the parsley/walnut recipe, substitute fresh basil for the parsley and pine nuts for the walnuts. You might want to make a half recipe because of the increased price of ingredients, and because it won’t last as long due to the basil’s tendency to oxidize.

Build your own Pesto:  Fresh greens that can be used as pesto bases include the aforementioned basil and parsley, arugula, cilantro, watercress, mint or spinach . So can cooked greens such the kale above as well as collards, chard, mustard greens, etc. Even cooked vegetables outside the category of greens can be used, such as peas, asparagus, or edamame—these usually require less nuts and oil to achieve a creamy texture when blended. I’ve even seen seemingly unrelated veggies such as sun-dried tomatoes made into pesto.  For the nuts, virtually any type of nut or seed works, although some combinations play better with other ingredients than others. Mild flavored almonds and hazelnuts go with almost anything, but strong flavored nuts or seeds go best with more assertive greens. Toasted nuts can be used as well. Sunflower seeds or (shelled) pumpkin seeds can be used for a nut-free pesto—the pumpkin seeds in particular are often paired with cilantro.  Sometimes avocados or olives are used to add richness in place of some or all of the nuts as well.

Freeform Pesto Equation: 
Greens or other veggies (~4-5 parts)
Nuts or seeds (~1 part)
 flavoring agents such as garlic, lemon, spices (to taste)
 Liquid such as water or oil (~1/2 to 1 part)
 Vegan Pesto!

Have fun!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

10-Year Vegan-iversary

Ten years ago this month, I first decided to go vegan. I didn’t mark the exact day because I was not all that optimistic about the venture succeeding. I was a high-schooler, and at the time I was the only member of my family who had ever explored any form of vegetarianism*.

I had spent several weeks reading up on the subject of veganism and the pros and cons thereof, as well as a number of books about specific misdeeds of the modern meat, dairy and egg industries. I read up on nutrition and discovered that contrary to popular belief, vegetarians and vegans were not inherently doomed and sickly, and that there might even be some benefits, health-wise. No matter how much I was mentally leaning in the vegan direction, however, I hesitated to take the final plunge.

Actually, even before the recent spate of veggie-related reading, I had had impulses toward vegetarianism for years. I was always very fond of and empathetic toward animals, and possessed an excessively vivid and gruesome imagination when it came to picturing the process that was required to transform a living, breathing creature into the bloody slab on my plate. However, I continued to grit my teeth and dutifully choke it down, because everyone told me to, because I thought it was necessary for my health, and also because I doubted my ability to make a meaningful difference, in the world at large and in my own life.

I was a somewhat defeatist teenager, you see. My life was far from terrible, but there were a lot of things about it that made me feel powerless. I was not particularly happy at school, where the difficulty of the schoolwork was often far too easy to pique my interest, and yet my chronic illnesses and absenteeism often created huge backlogs of busy work that I would resentfully slog through for hours, mind completely disengaged. I also had some fairly serious health problems that were not fully diagnosed or treated until I was in my twenties—not that I knew that at the time. I thought it was just my lot in life to be severely nauseated all the time, among other issues, and that it simply wasn’t fixable, no matter what I did.

And I was a worrier. I was just well read and informed enough to be deeply concerned about all of the bad things going on around the world, and just as deeply convinced that I couldn’t personally help with any of it. I could not vote (and that rankled, a lot. I’ve never missed an election since I turned eighteen), I had no income to use for charity, I couldn’t rush overseas to get involved in relief efforts—frankly I was too sickly to do much good even with local volunteerism. I was completely powerless, at least as far as my dramatic teenage brain was concerned.

So whenever I considered the potential impact of a vegetarianism, I tended to dismiss the idea that my abstaining would have any significant effect on the industry at large, for I was convinced that I would never have any impact on the world at large, period. And therefore, there was no point in trying. That was the essential fallacy, of course—the idea that a venture must be a guaranteed success (and not just small-scale success, but a worldwide one) to be worth trying in the first place, when any inventor will tell you that failures can be as instructive as successes, or even more so. And I knew this, deep down. I just hadn’t quite built up the courage yet.

So one day, with no fanfare, I sat down to a meal and simply thought to myself, I don’t want to eat that. I don't want to participate in the cruelty involved anymore. And what’s more, I knew I didn’t have to--that there was an alternative lifestyle that I could try. And maybe I would crash and burn within days and fail utterly with everyone pointing and laughing (a common teenage concern). But at the same time, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I would succeed. And wasn’t it worth going out on limb for once to find out?

So I did. And of course, ten years of veganism (and several years of adulthood) later, I can look back and laugh at my uncertainties, my wobbly first steps. And I can evaluate what I have accomplished. No, I have not driven the agricultural-industrial complex to its knees. Although I am no longer actively participating in or financing the meat industry with my custom, the lack hasn’t put any meat company out of business. The planet turns on, largely unchanged by the details of one tiny life form and its tiny choices. I have not changed the world. But I have changed my world.—the way I see life and my place in it. And that is worth something, at least to me.

*Now I am one of six—about half.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Vegan Alfredo-Style White Pasta Sauce

This turned out pretty well. The silken tofu provides creaminess, and the beans lend a heavier texture that clings well to the noodles. The seasonings were chosen for both flavor and color, so feel free to substitute black pepper for the white pepper, etc., if the little black flecks are not a problem for you.

Vegan Alfredo Sauce with Rotini

Vegan White Sauce

1 12 oz packing silken tofu
2 15 oz cans white beans, rinsed and drained
2-3 tsp oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 ½ Tbsp nutritional yeast
2-3 tsp minced fresh garlic
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
up to ½ cup hot water*
White pepper and more salt to taste

In the food processor
Place all ingredients except water in a food processor. Blend until smooth.
While the machine is running, pour hot water through chute until sauce achieves a creamy, pourable consistency.

Taste and season with white pepper and additional salt as needed.

Pureed and ready to toss with pasta
 To serve: Cook and drain pasta of your choice (something curly or ridged would cling best to the sauce). Prepare any vegetables or other add-ins.

Toss pasta and veggies with sauce until evenly coated.

For leftovers: Store pasta and sauce separately if possible. Thin sauce with more water before reheating.

*water from cooking the pasta is convenient


This sauce is a simple creamy base that can be used as a starting point for a wide variety of dishes. The sauce can be tinted pink with roasted red pepper or sun-dried tomatoes, or green with pesto or fresh herbs. It can be made richer with the addition of nuts or seeds or more oil. Herbs and spices such as basil or nutmeg can be used to change up the flavors also.

Different shapes of pasta can make a big difference in the final dish, too.  From cappellini to gnocchi, to ravioli, orzo or fusilli, the wide range of pasta varieties can result in dramatically different textures.

A wide variety of vegetables can be stirred in the the final dish. Frozen peas are pictured, but mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, asparagus, or artichoke hearts would be good too. Olives or capers would be a fancy touch.

Vegan white sauce tossed with broken-up whole-wheat  lasagna noodles and frozen peas

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Vegan Tapioca Pudding

It’s funny how sometimes after going vegan you end up missing things you never liked all that much before.  As a non-vegan I thought tapioca was okay but nothing special. But having not tasted any for at least a decade, I came across a recipe and thought, hmmm. That sounds sort of good. And I was pretty pleased with the result.  Either tapioca is better than I remembered, or the homemade (and vegan) version is better than the little ready made cups I had as a kid. The fruit helps too.

The spices, flavorings and sweetness can be increased or varied if you like.  I wouldn’t leave out the coconut extract, though—it adds a lovely richness to the flavor.

Lightly Spiced Vegan Tapioca Pudding (with sugar-free option)

3 cups soymilk, vanilla or plain (or other nondairy milk)
4 Tbsp instant tapioca (just pearls without flavoring or sweetener)
1 Tbsp cornstarch
½ cup sugar or equivalent sweetener (more or less according to how sweet your soymilk is)
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp coconut extract

Fruit (soft tangy fruits such as berries, mango, apricot, peach, or pear)


Thickened and cooling
Whisk together the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of the soy milk; set aside. Place rest of soymilk, tapioca, sweetener, and spices in saucepan, stir, and let sit for about five minutes at room temperature. Stir in cornstarch slurry. Cook over medium heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan unceasingly until it comes to a full boil and stays there for 1 minute. It should be somewhat thickened at this point. Take pan off heat and stir in vanilla and coconut extract. Let cool for twenty minutes, at which point it should be quite thick.

A mix of mangoes and apricots

Meanwhile, prepare your fruit by washing, peeling and chopping as necessary.

Serve by dividing fruit among serving bowls, and spooning pudding over top. You could garnish with nuts or toasted coconut if you like.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Refreshing Quinoa Salad

This is nice salad, both refreshing and substantial. Since it is served cold, it’s good for travel or picnics. I like to make up a big batch when I’ve got a busy couple of days coming up, and grab quick leftovers all week. You can vary it by adding in different vegetables and flavorings. Sweet onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers and various fresh herbs would be good choices. Nuts can be added for crunch.

Quinoa and Garbanzo Salad

1 ¾ cups dry quinoa
3 ¼ cups water
½ tsp salt
¼ cup lemon juice
2 15 oz cans garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 large (or 2 small) cucumber, chopped
1 bunch chives, chopped
a handful of dried apricots, chopped
1 Tbsp oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
additional salt, pepper, and/or lemon pepper to taste


Place quinoa, water and salt in a pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover and stir in lemon juice. Re-cover, remove from heat and let sit for five more minutes.

While quinoa is cooking, chop vegetables and rinse and drain beans. Sauté garlic and spices in oil for a few minutes.

Fluff quinoa and stir in garlic-spice mixture, beans, cucumber, chives and apricots. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve chilled.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grandma's Fruit Salad

This is a simple recipe, but a nice one. Canned fruit salads are sometimes a little bland and mushy, but this one chooses its fruits carefully—canned pineapple and mandarin oranges maintain their flavor and texture through the canning process much better than most fruits.  Using canned fruit also means you can make it any time of year without paying a mint in ingredients.

It’s very satisfying when you’re able to modify a recipe from your childhood to work within your current nutritional needs. Comfort food is mainly a matter of emotional associations, and a recipe doesn’t have to be completely identical to stir those same memories. Even though the original contained dairy and this one does not, one bite still transports me back to family reunions and grandmotherly hugs just as well as the proverbial madeleines. 

Grandma’s Any-Season Fruit Salad

2 20 oz cans pineapple chunks
2 15 oz cans mandarin oranges OR 3 11 oz cans
½ cup shredded coconut (more or less to taste)
6 oz vegan yogurt (vanilla, lemon, or plain work well for sauces) or soy sour cream

A handful of smallish vegan marshmallows, optional

Drain fruit in a colander—ideally for several hours or overnight if possible, but whatever time you have is fine. Mix drained fruit with rest of ingredients and chill.

The marshmallows add a retro touch and make the dish more of a dessert. It tastes just fine without them though; you can see in the picture that I left them out this time.

In addition to being a walk down memory lane for me, this is a nice summery dessert that doesn't heat up the kitchen and gives you at least one serving of fruit. Not bad!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Easy Vegan Potato Salad

I tried a new method for potato salad this time, and found it both easier and nicer in texture. The technique is to use a thin-skinned, waxy potato such as Red or Yukon (no russets), leave the peel on, cut them before cooking, and steam instead of boil. This gives you firm, intact chunks that don’t dissolve into mashed potatoes, and also saves you the difficulty and danger of peeling and cutting a bunch of boiling hot potatoes.  Immediately tossing the potatoes with the lemon juice while hot helps them absorb the tangy flavor, preventing blandness and allowing you to use less dressing

Vegan Potato Salad made with red potatoes
Easy Potato Salad

3-4 lbs thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed (not peeled) and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar

2 ribs celery, chopped

about ½ cup vegan mayo, store-bought or homemade (more or less to taste)
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp dill weed
¼ tsp mustard powder
¼ tsp celery seed
1-2 tsp sugar or sweetener
salt, pepper, and/or lemon pepper or other salt free seasoning to taste

Optional Add-ins: mustard, relish, onions, cucumbers or pickles, fresh herbs such as parsley or chives, or more unusual vegetables, such as zucchini, artichokes, olives, water chestnuts--whatever you like

Steam your prepped potatoes for 15 to 20 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork.  Place hot potatoes in a large mixing bowl (heat-proof would be best).  Pour lemon juice/vinegar over them and stir briefly. Let potatoes finish cooling.

Meanwhile, chop celery and whisk dressing ingredients together. When potatoes are cool, stir in celery and dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add more vegan mayo if salad seems overly dry.

Serve immediately or chill for a few hours.


Cauliflower based "potato" salad
You could substitute steamed cauliflower for part or all of the potatoes for a lower-glycemic salad. Cooked cauliflower tossed with a dressing this way actually has a pretty nice texture.

Some people prefer different dressing bases for this kind of salad. You might like to try vegan sour cream or soy yogurt in place of the vegan mayonnaise. For a low-fat base, you could also try soy “buttermilk”: soymilk mixed with a little lemon juice and left to sit a few minutes to curdle. Or perhaps a combination thereof.

The seasonings can of course be altered to taste.

Other root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes or beets, can be mixed with the potatoes for color and nutrition.

This was pretty nice addition to a Memorial Day meal. We also had chili, coleslaw, and roasted fresh corn.

Roastin' Ears, baked husk and all

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Slow Cooker Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

This was tonight's dinner. I liked the warm spice mix, but if you don't have some of them, feel free to simplify or substitute. In this kind of recipe, some people like to pre-saute the onions and garlic and/or toast the spices in a little oil before assembling in the slow cooker.  I don't usually bother, but go ahead if you want to.
If you don't have a slow cooker, you can cook the soup entirely on the stove top. It will probably take an hour or so.

Slow Cooker Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

2 cups dry red lentils
1 ½ cups chopped onion (about 1 medium-large)
2 ½ cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice (2-3, depending on sides)
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp fenugreek
1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
¾ tsp salt (more to taste)
2 tsp low sodium vegetable broth powder (I used Vegebase), optional
2 bay leaves
1 small piece kombu
6 ½ cups water, veggie broth, or a combination thereof
2 tsp oil
4-5 dried apricots, chopped (optional)
2-3 pieces candied ginger, chopped (optional)

2-3 tsp lemon juice

Place all ingredients except lemon juice, in order*, in slow cooker. Cook on high for 4-5 hours, until lentils are soft and sweet potatoes can be easily pierced by a fork. Stir after an hour of cooking, and about once an hour for the rest of cooking time. Before serving, stir in lemon juice and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with biscuits or flatbread for dipping.

* It's important that the spices not be on the bottom, because they can burn, and that the water is on top of the spices so that they dissolve. Otherwise you don't have to be too obsessive about the order. The general order of lentils/beans, then vegetables, then spices, then water/broth will serve you well in this kind of recipe.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Quick Vegan Quesadillas

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Here is one of my favorite Latin recipes. It comes together very quickly, and has room for a lot of variation. The meltable vegan cheeses that are out these days do beautifully in this recipe. I like to use just a light sprinkle; nutritionally vegan cheeses are more like a condiment than a protein source, and are best paired with high protein, low-fat ingredients like beans.
If you can't find vegan cheese, or don't want to use it, it's best to use a bean dip with a tangier flavor and loose, creamy texture, such as hummus, in order to better approximate the original mouthfeel.

Vegan quesadilla, filled with black bean dip, salsa, and vegan cheese


4-5 tortillas (depending on size)
About 2 cups (or 1 can ) bean dip of your choice--can be refried beans, hummus, spicy bean dip, etc.
1/4 - 1/2 cup salsa (preferably chunky or fresh cut such as pico de gallo, but others will do in a pinch)
Vegan cheese to taste, shredded or thinly sliced (optional)

 oil or cooking spray

Any other add-ins you would like, such as grilled or sauteed vegetables (bell peppers or onions would be particularly nice), mushrooms, olives, avocado slices, whole beans, potatoes, faux meats, etc.

Toppings for finished quesadillas, such as guacamole or vegan sour cream

Set out your filling ingredients, precooking or warming as needed (refried beans do better pre-warmed, hummus doesn't need it).

Soften your tortilla for about 30 seconds in the microwave (or oven, or dry skillet) until they are pliable.

Assemble your quesadillas. There are two basic methods: you can layer two tortillas one on top of the other with the fillings in between, or you can place the filling over half a tortilla and then fold it over into a half moon. They both work fine.  I think the half moon quesadillas are much easier to flip, but the layered version can take more filling.

Filled and ready to be folded
To assemble: spread a thin layer of bean dip over either half or all of your tortilla, depending on method. Using a slotted spoon so you don't get too much liquid, spoon some salsa evenly over the top. Sprinkle vegan cheese and/or any other filling ingredients over the top, and either fold the tortilla over or place a second tortilla on top.
Squish it very lightly to help it hold together.

Heat a frying pan to medium heat and oil or spray it. Just a teaspoon will do. Place a quesadila flat in the pan and let brown. Depending on your pan and stove this may take anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Flip the quesadilla and brown the other side.

Remove it from the pan and cook your remaining quesadillas. You can do two at a time if they're the half moon kind.

Quesadilla, half-moon style

Cut quesadillas into wedges and top with guacamole or vegan sour cream. Enjoy!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Baked Tofu Sticks with Three Dipping Sauces

These tofu sticks are wonderfully simple--just throw them in the oven and forget about them.  There's no need to marinate or press: the sauces give you all the other flavor you need, and the dry heat of the oven ensures a great firm and crispy texture.  Don't skip the onion salt; it makes a difference.

Tofu Sticks, warm and crispy

Baked Tofu Sticks:

1 lb firm or extra-firm tofu
cooking spray or oil
about 1/8 to 1/4 tsp onion salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray or oil. Slice tofu into roughly finger-size sticks. Arrange them on the cookie sheet. Feel free to pack them close together; just try not to have them actually touching each other. Spray or brush tops lightly with more oil.

Bake for 25 minutes, flip them, and then bake 15-20 minutes more, until they are golden brown and crispy on both sides. While they are still hot, sprinkle them evenly with onion salt, tossing them around to make sure they are evenly coated.

Serve warm with one or more of the following sauces:

Peanut Sauce
Peanut Sauce:

3 tbsp peanut butter
1tbsp lime or lemon juice
1/4 cup soymilk or coconut milk
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp curry powder
4 tsp sugar or sweetener
1 tsp agave nectar (optional)
1 tsp soy sauce
dash of cinnamon
Water to thin sauce

Mix ingredients together; heat sauce until warm. Add water if necessary (it probably will be) to thin it to a dip-able consistency.
This sauce is also good in Asian style pasta dishes.

Lemon Sauce
Lemon Sauce:

3-4 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar or sweetener
1/4 cup water
2-3 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp turmeric
Dash of cinnamon
up to 1/2 tsp of lemon or orange zest (optional-use half if dried)

Mix together all ingredients. Cook for 1-3 minutes on stove top or in microwave until thickened.
This sauce is also very good in stir fries--just double the recipe and add it right to your frying pan/wok when the veggies are almost done.


"Ranch" Sauce:

Ranch style dipping sauce
3 Tbsp vegan sour cream or plain vegan yogurt
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp dill weed
a dash of lemon pepper
a dash of beau monde seasoning
a dash of dried parsley or chives (optional)
soymilk, water or lemon juice for thinning (optional)

Whisk ingredients together. Thin it to a more dip-able consistency, if you like, with one of the listed options. You can add any other herbs or spices that sound good to you, such as tarragon or perhaps nutmeg, and leave out any that don't. It's pretty flexible.

This turned out pretty nice. The little assortment of sauces made a quick and easy meal more fun and interesting.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Vegan Sweet and Sour Cabbage Rolls

 This was fun. I thought it was quite flavorful, and a good use of frugal, healthy ingredients.

Vegan Cabbage Rolls with Sauce

Vegan Sweet and Sour Cabbage Rolls


1 head of cabbage

1 cup dry lentils
1 cup dry brown rice
½ large onion
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp curry powder
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp lemon juice
salt, pepper, and lemon pepper to taste
¼-1/2 cup small dried fruit such as currants, raisin or dried cranberries

¾ of a 14 oz can cranberry sauce
1 6 oz can tomato sauce
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp soy sauce

Core the head of cabbage, and boil for approximately 6 minutes. Remove cabbage from water and let cool.

Cook lentils and brown rice according to your preferred method (I usually go with 20 minutes of simmering for the lentils and 30-35 minutes for the brown rice), using the cabbage water if you like (it has flavor and nutrients). Meanwhile, sauté the onion and garlic with the curry powder and cinnamon.

Sauteing the vegetables

 Peal off leaves of cabbage and set aside for stuffing.  Chop up the inner leaves that are too small for rolls as well as any that are hopelessly broken, and add them to the frying pan with the onions and garlic. Cook for a few minutes.

Mash about ¼ of the lentils (this will act as a binder). Mix in the rest of the lentils, the brown rice, the onion mixture, and the rest of the filling ingredients.  Adjust the flavoring, particularly salt, to taste.

Stuffing the cabbage

Stuff the leaves. Lay a cabbage leaf out flat, and place 1-3 tablespoons of filling, depending on leaf size, near the stem end. Fold in sides and roll up, starting with stem. Place finished rolls seam-side down in slow cooker, piling up in multiple layers. Sprinkle any remaining chunks of cabbage over the top.

In the slow cooker
Mix together sauce ingredients. Pour over rolls in slow cooker.  Add 1-3 cups of water (the cabbage water works fine) until the liquid covers rolls.
Set slow cooker on high and cook for 2-3 hours.

Makes 12-18 rolls (depending on size). Serve with a steak knife, the cabbage remains a little toothsome.

Variation:  For a richer, sweeter sauce, add an extra can of cranberry sauce and omit water.

First Layer of Cabbage Rolls

My Favorite Vegan Tofu Omelet

This recipe is a combination of three different vegan omelet recipes I’ve tried, each one contributing one key ingredient: silken tofu, cornmeal, and garbanzo flour. Silken tofu is much easier to blend totally smooth than regular tofu, the cornmeal provides essential flavor and texture, and the garbanzo flour helps with browning.

Vegan omelette filled with caramelized onions, potatoes and mushrooms
Favorite Vegan Tofu Omelet

2  12 oz boxes of silken tofu
¼ cup cornmeal
¼ cup nutritional yeast
¼ cup water or soymilk
1 heaping Tbsp garbanzo flour (optional)
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cumin
½ tsp salt (or less)
½ tsp lemon pepper

oil or cooking spray for pan

Fillings (arguably the most important part!):  I used a combination of mushrooms sautéed with garlic and parsley, potatoes, and caramelized red onions. Other options include salsa, cooked greens, beans, faux meats or cheeses, or various sautéed, roasted or grilled vegetables.

Fillings, warm and waiting


Puree all ingredients (except oil and fillings) in a blender until completely smooth. It may be helpful to pre-mash the tofu a little before blending.

Put oil in a (preferably nonstick) frying pan and heat to medium heat. (make sure the pan is one with a lid). Pour ¼ of your blender batter into the hot pan and spread it out into a circle with a spatula. Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Have your fillings warm.

Not quite ready
When the five minutes are up, lift the lid.  The top of the omelet should look mostly dry; if it’s very wet give it another minute of cooking. Place the filling of your choice in a strip across the middle third of the omelet. Using a spatula, carefully loosen and fold each side across the middle, burrito- style. Cover the pan again and cook for 1 more minute.

Remove to a plate and cook the other three omelets using the remaining batter, re-oiling the pan as necessary. If you’re a skilled multi-tasker, you could use two or more pans and have multiple omelets going at the same time.

Can be topped with ketchup, salsa, or guacamole.

Serves 4

Variations: There are various ways to fold an omelet.  In addition to the burrito style above, there is the classic half-moon shape in which the omelet is simply folded in half over the filling. The omelet can also be rolled around the filling like a cigar. I think the burrito style is the easiest to do successfully with the tofu batter, which has somewhat less natural structural integrity than a traditional egg batter.

The batter can be also be cooked without any filling, and then be chopped up and added to fried rice or Pad Thai.

Half-moon style