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!