Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cheaper Hummus

I like hummus a lot, but tahini is my nemesis. It’s expensive, it’s messy, it always seems to expire before I’ve finished the whole jar… I could go on. For the uninitiated, tahini is sesame seed butter, basically peanut butter made from sesame seeds, and an essential flavor and texture contributing ingredient in hummus as well as several other Mediterranean foods. The thing is, while some jars of tahini clock in anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar an ounce, its primary ingredient sesame seeds can be found for less than a dollar a pound—a big difference. So I decided to cut out the middle man and try making hummus directly from sesame seeds. It works just fine—as long as you use a blender. I found a food processor to be not particularly effective at grinding sesame seeds. It seemed to just fling everything on the side of the bowl instead of grinding properly. You could also use a coffee or spice grinder to grind the seeds before adding them to the rest of the recipe if you wished.

Note: This is a fairly light hummus. If you want it richer, feel free to add less water and more oil, or increase the proportion of sesame.

All of the herbs and spices are optional, by the way. Some hummuses are flavored with nothing other than lemon and garlic; some have the whole spice drawer thrown in there. Feel free to experiment.

Cheaper Hummus
Affordable, Tahini-Free Hummus

¼ cup sesame seeds (toasted if you wish)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2  15 oz can garbanzo beans (or about 3 cups cooked from scratch)
2-4 Tbsp lemon juice (more or less to taste)               
¾ cup diced onions
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
¼ tsp cardamom
1 tsp dried parsley
½ tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp salt        

4-8 Tbsp water (can use more oil if you want)

paprika for garnish

Saute the onion and garlic in ½ tablespoon of the oil. When mostly done, add the spices and toast for 30-90 seconds more. Pull off the heat and set aside.

Thoroughly rinse and drain the garbanzo beans.

Grinding the sesame seeds
Grind sesame seeds in a blender until powdery. Add 1 ½ Tbsp of the olive oil and blend until fairly smooth and creamy. Add the onion-spice mix as well as the garbanzos and all remaining ingredients except paprika. Puree until pretty smooth, scraping down the blender with a spatula a few times as necessary. Adding the higher amount of water will make it easier to blend, but it will thin out the final product as well. If you have a small or not very powerful blender, you will need to blend in batches.
Sesame-olive oil blend

Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with flatbread, crackers, pita chips, or fresh vegetables. It’s also good in sandwiches and wraps.

Hummus in the blender


There are so many different versions of hummus I sometimes think it should have its own food group. Any other bean, including white/navy beans, kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans and even edamame can make for a good hummus variation.

Interesting spice additions such as curry powder, Italian seasoning or five-spice powder can make a big difference.

Flavorful veggies including sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers or artichokes can be blended in with the other ingredients, or chopped and tossed in for a chunky effect.

The traditional garlic and onions can be added raw, sautéed or even roasted to varied effect. Other alliums such as chives or shallots may be substituted as well.

A small amount of vegan pesto or olive tapenade can be swirled in after blending for extra flavor.

Other options for tahini-free hummus include simply omitting it and increasing the olive oil to compensate, and replacing it with other nut or seed butters. Peanut butter is the one I’ve seen most often, probably because it is the cheapest and easiest to find, but others would work too. 

Vegan Hummus

Mixed Berry Shortcakes with Soft, Fluffy Vegan Biscuits

This is a nice light, summery dessert; it's not overly rich or sweet and it comes together fairly quickly. It works beautifully sugar-free, too.

A shortcake is basically a sweet biscuit or similar baked good that is covered with juicy fruit and/or other toppings and absorbs them to become soft and flavorful. You could say it's a dessert version of biscuits and gravy. 

This biscuit recipe would work well in other applications; if you want to use it in a less sweet context, decrease the sugar or sweetener to 1 Tbsp.

Mixed Berry Shortcake

Mixed Berry Shortcakes
with Soft, Fluffy Vegan Biscuits

Dry ingredients:
1 7/8 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbsp cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cream of tarter
½ to 1 tsp salt (depending on personal taste)
3 Tbsp sugar or sweetener
¼ tsp cinnamon (optional)
dash of nutmeg

3 Tbsp oil
1 ½ cup soymilk
1 tsp vanilla

½ cup more flour for rolling (you won’t use it all)

5–8 cups fresh or frozen berries
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp vanilla
sweetener to taste, varies bases on type and ripeness of berries

Whipped cream substitute of your choice (see note)


For the biscuits:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Place the ½ cup of flour for rolling in the bottom of a pie plate.

Whisk together remaining dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add oil and toss with a fork until it looks like clumpy wet sand. Pour in the soymilk and vanilla and stir until just combined.

Soft Whole-Wheat Biscuits
Take a spoonful of batter (about 1/10th of total) and drop it onto the pie plate with the flour. Roll it around until it is well coated on all sides. Pick it up and place it in a greased 9-inch cake pan. Take another spoonful of similar size and coat it with flour the same way; repeat until all the batter is used up and the cake pan is full. Spray the tops of the biscuits with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil.
Fresh from the oven

Bake for 5 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and bake for 15 minutes more. Let cool in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then turn them out and pull them apart (be careful not to burn yourself).

For the berries: If you are using frozen berries, merely thaw them and toss them undrained with the sweetener, cinnamon and vanilla, and heat until warm.

If you’re using fresh, you’ll want to encourage them to form a sauce either by macerating—tossing them with sugar and letting them sit for half an hour until juices are released due to osmosis—or by mashing a fraction of the berries with a little water or juice and using that as a sauce for the remaining berries. Either way, mix with other ingredients and heat before serving.

Biscuit with Berries
To assemble: Place a biscuit into each individual bowl, and spoon some berries and juice over it. Top with a dollop (1-2 tablespoons) of vegan whipped topping substitute.

Makes about 10 servings.

One of the reasons I made this recipe is to try out a new vegan whipped topping I found at the store called Smackin’ Whip. I like it; it is a very close facsimile to Cool Whip in both flavor and texture. It doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of nutritional value, but it’s fine as an occasional treat. I'm eager to try it in other classic Cool Whip family recipes.

Store-bought Vegan Whipped Topping

If you don’t have any access to store-bought vegan whipped cream substitutes, there are a variety of different options for homemade vegan whipped topping recipes. Recipes based on ground soaked cashews, whipped coconut milk, pureed tofu, or some combination thereof are typical approaches. You may develop a preference based on taste or nutrition. For example, I tend to prefer the heart-healthy fats in certain nuts to the saturated fat of coconut. People who need a very low fat recipe might even try a custard-like topping of cooked, thickened non-dairy milk, sweetened and flavored to their liking.

 My favorite homemade whipped cream substitute is my Hazelnut or Almond Mousse, which also works as a pudding or pie filling when the higher amount of sweetener is used.

Hazelnut Mousse as a Pie filling
Hazelnut Mousse (vegan whipped topping substitute)

1 12 oz package firm silken tofu
2/3 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds
¼ to 2/3 cup sugar or sweetener (based on personal taste)
1 ¼ tsp vanilla
2-3 Tbsp soy milk (enough to blend easily)
dash or two of cinnamon (or other flavorings* as desired)

Blend all ingredients together in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust sweetness and flavorings to your liking. You can chill it for a couple hours to firm up if you like, and stir briefly with a spoon before serving to fluff up.

You can decide whether or not to toast the nuts beforehand depending on whether you would like a strong nutty flavor or a subtler one.

*Extracts such as maple or coconut would be good additions, and so would spices such a cardamom or ginger or even a little espresso powder. 


I’ve used blueberries and blackberries here, but other fruits would work well too. Strawberries and peaches are fairly traditional, but anything from pears to mangoes will work too as long as the sweetener is adjusted. Even canned fruit can work in a pinch.

The preparation method on the fruit can be changed as well. A variation in which the fruit is grilled is great as barbecues. The biscuits and toppings could be prepared ahead of time and brought along. The fruit could also be chilled instead of heated on hot days too.

If vanilla vegan ice cream is easier to find in your area, you could use it in place of the vegan whipped topping for an a la mode variation.

Other desserts, such as cake, could be used as a base in place of the biscuit. This may be a particularly good way to re-purpose a dessert that turned out dry or bland on its own.

For a sugar-free version, simply replace all sugar with an equivalent amount of a sweetener such as stevia or splenda, making sure to do so in all of the elements (biscuits, fruit, cream).

Gooey, creamy shortcake

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Sticky Bun Cake for Virtual Vegan Potluck

This is my first time participating in the Virtual Vegan Potluck, an fun online event in which bloggers around the world post vegan recipes on the same day. I decided try and come up with a something really tasty and fun to post for the occasion.

 If you wanted to be formal, you could simply call it a Cinnamon Bundt Cake, but I like to call it by the nostalgic food memories it evokes. Hence the Snickerdoodle Sticky Bun Cake.

Snickerdoodle Sticky Bun Cake

Caramelized edges
There are a lot of recipes for various kinds of dough that are covered with cinnamon sugar and baked or fried, including snickerdoodle cookies, cinnamon rolls, monkey bread, multiple kinds of doughnuts and pastries and many others. It’s a pretty classic flavor concept, but it’s not very often applied to cake batter. Probably because most cake batters are too runny to even consider rolling in anything. But if you use a batter that’s on the thick side and handle it carefully, it turns out that it is both possible and a lot of messy fun to treat it like a snickerdoodle. The result was a rather delightful coffee cake that had the classic ripples of cinnamon sugar running through it, but also had a really flavorful layer of caramelized cinnamon sugar all around the sides and bottom, reminiscent of sticky buns or monkey bread. It was really quite good; in fact I liked it so well I might use it for my next birthday. Or someone else’s birthday, if I can’t wait that long. : )

If the idea of getting your hands covered in cinnamon sugar doesn’t appeal to you, I’ve included an alternate method. I can’t promise it will be as much fun though, or be quite as caramelized.

Vegan Cinnamon Swirl Bundt Cake

Vegan Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Sticky Bun Cake

Dry ingredients:
2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom
½ tsp salt

Wet ingredients:
1 12 oz package firm silken tofu, pureed until completely smooth
3 Tbsp lemon juice
½ cup applesauce
1/3 cup oil
1 Tbsp vanilla
½ tsp coconut extract
¼ tsp almond extract

Cinnamon sugar filling:
¾ cup turbinado sugar
1 ½ Tbsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 10-in bundt pan with cooking spray or brush it with oil (be thorough—this cake is sticky).

Combine the ingredients for the cinnamon sugar filling; place in a small flat-bottomed dish and set aside.

Mix together the wet ingredients (tofu through almond extract) until completely homogenous. If you like you can do this in the blender when you puree the tofu.

Whisk together all dry ingredients.

Combine wet and dry mixes, stirring until blended.  Try not to over-mix.

Now to assemble:

One blob of batter, being rolled in cinnamon sugar
Method 1 (the fun snickerdoodle way):  Spoon a dollop of batter onto the dish of cinnamon sugar. Swirl the dish around and scoop the cinnamon sugar over the top until the blob of batter is completely coated. Carefully pick up the blob and place it in the bottom of the (greased) bundt pan, briefly shaking off excess sugar if necessary. Scoop up another blob of batter and coat it in cinnamon sugar the same way and place it in the pan next to the other; repeat until all the batter is used up, placing blobs on top of each other once you run out of room on the bottom. Sprinkle extra cinnamon sugar over the top to cover any sparse spots.

one blob in the bottom of pan
one layer of blobs
Ready to bake

Method two (the stodgy layered way): Pour a layer of batter into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle a layer of cinnamon sugar on top. Pour another layer of batter over the cinnamon sugar layer. Keep alternating layers of batter and sugar until you run out of batter. Finish with a layer of cinnamon sugar on top. You separate the batter into as many or as few layers as you want. This method may require less cinnamon sugar than called for.

Either way, bake the cake for about 40-43 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean (clean of batter anyway—don’t worry if some cinnamon sugar sticks to the toothpick).

Let cool for about five minutes (don't wait too long or the sugar will harden and the cake will stick).  Gently loosen the sides of the cake. Then, using oven mitts, place a plate that is larger in diameter than your cake pan upside down on top of the cake and carefully flip. Pull off the pan leaving the cake on the plate. Let cool the rest of the way before glazing, if desired.
Vanilla Glaze

A very simple vanilla glaze would be ½ cup powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp soymilk and ½ tsp vanilla whisked together until dissolved and then poured over the cake. Other extracts such as maple or coconut could be used in place of the vanilla, and cinnamon or other spices would be excellent additions as well. More elaborate glazes involving vegan cream cheese or caramel sauce would be cool too.

Leftovers taste particularly good when reheated, by  the way.

Cooled and Glazed


Mini muffin version
Muffins/ Cupcakes: This recipe can be made in muffin or cupcake form; in fact it was originally modified from a non-vegan muffin recipe. Either the snickerdoodle method or the ripple method can be used. If the snickerdoodle method is used, the cupcakes will hold together better if each cupcakes consists of a single cinnamon sugar coated dollop of batter rather than multiple ones. This recipe will make 12-14 high domed muffins or 18-20+ level cupcakes (or 50-60+ mini cupcakes). The baking time will  have to be decreased to about 20-23 minutes for full size cupcakes and 15 minutes or so for minis.

Sugar Free Version: Replace the turbinado sugar in the batter with an equivalent amount of stevia or other sugar free sweetener. Use the layered method, not snickerdoodle method. Omit cinnamon sugar filling and replace it with a combination of 3 Tbsp of wheat germ or crushed bran cereal with 3/4 tsp cinnamon and sugar free sweetener equivalent to 3 tbsp of sugar. Layer as usual, using a light hand with the wheat germ mixture.  The cinnamon flavor is not as pronounced in this version; you might want to consider spicing up the batter to compensate. To improve texture and reduce gummy-ness in sugar-free baked goods, you can replace 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the flour with cornmeal, oat bran, or ground nuts.

Other flavors: You could try adding nuts or dried fruit to the cake, or changing up some of the spices and extracts. You could even try replacing ½ to ¾ cup of the flour with cocoa or carob powder for a chocolate version (I haven’t tried that variation yet, but now I definitely want to).


  Be sure to visit the the other participating blogs!

 Previous Blog in the Virtual Vegan Potluck chain:   Self Health Web

 Next Blog: In Fine Balance

Moroccan Spiced Garbanzo Beans with Toasted Couscous

This was a nice dish somewhat reminiscent of takeout in flavor. In a restaurant, a similar dish might be called a tagine. This version isn’t quite authentic, though—I’ve made it quite a bit thicker than the broth-y stew that would be traditional. I think this helps keep the bed of couscous fluffy and not soggy. Feel free to increase the liquid if you prefer it the other way. You could make it spicier as well with cayenne or red pepper flakes if you wish.

This toasted couscous (modified from a non-vegan and not quite as healthy recipe) can be used with a lot of different meals. It is a nice upgrade from a plain bed of couscous. The basic method, with adjusted cooking times, can be applied to other grain products such as orzo or Israeli/pearl couscous or even bulger.

Moroccan Spiced Garbanzo Beans with Toasted Couscous

Moroccan Flavored Garbanzos with Toasted Couscous

1 ½ cup tomatoes, chopped
1 ½ cup plus ½ cup onions, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
1-2 Tbsp oil
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp coriander
¼ tsp cardamom

1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
2 15 oz cans garbanzo beans

salt, pepper, and/or lemon pepper or other low salt seasoning to taste

water if necessary

Toasted Couscous:
1 Tbsp oil
½ cup onions, sliced thinly
2-3 tsp garlic, minced
2 cup dry couscous (whole wheat or tricolor would be fine)
2 cups water or veggie broth
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp lemon pepper seasoning
2-3 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp slivered almonds (can be toasted or not)
2 Tbsp chopped green onions or chives

Spiced Garbanzos with apricots
For the Garbanzos: Saute garlic and ½ cup of the onions in 1 Tbsp of the oil until softened and lightly browned; add a pinch on salt if you like to speed things up. Puree the rest of the onions with the tomatoes in a blender or food processor until slightly chunky but mostly liquid. When the garlic and onions in the pan are done, pour the tomato-onion mixture into the pan. Cook several minutes over medium heat, stirring until reduced and a bit browned. Push the sauce to one side, add a little more oil to the other side and add the spices, toasting briefly (anywhere from 15 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on your pan and stove) but not letting them burn. Stir the sauce and spices together. Add the garbanzos and apricots. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon pepper. Keep warm over low heat until the couscous is ready. Add a little water if things start looking too dry.

Toasted couscous w/ almonds and chives
For the Couscous: Saute the sliced onions with the garlic over medium heat until softened and somewhat browned. Add the dry couscous, stir to coat with the remaining oil and toast for 3-5 minutes, until it smells nutty and has slightly darkened. Add salt, lemon pepper and water/broth. Be prepared for it to bubble up somewhat aggressively. Stir briefly and quickly cover. Remove from heat and let sit for 7 minutes. Fluff with a fork when done, and stir in the remaining ingredients.

Spoon the Garbanzo mixture onto a bed of the couscous. Enjoy!

Tip: For recipes like this that call for quickly toasting a mix of spices, I like to measure out all my spices into a little bowl ahead of time, so that I can toss them all in at once when the recipe calls for it, instead of taking the time to measure them each into the hot pan individually, which delays and risks burning.

Garbanzos on a bed of couscous

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Vegan Taco Night

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I’m posting an overview of ideas for a great vegan taco night.

It is not overly difficult to veganize a meal that is already full of beans and vegetables. Indeed, its simplicity is largely why I haven’t bothered to post about it before now, despite the fact that I’ve eaten it as often as once a week at times. Still, despite the fact that a decent taco night at its most basic requires nothing more than a can of beans and a tortilla (and the tortilla is negotiable), there is definitely some room for embellishment. Over the years I’ve figured out a number of tricks to jazz it up into an appealing and even fairly fancy meal.

Here are some of the components that can be improved or varied for a more exciting taco night:

  1. Beans
In my house, beans are the really the primary ingredient, providing most of the nutrition and a lot of the texture and flavor as well. My favorite trick is to use a combination of both refried or pureed beans as well as whole beans stirred in for texture. I also often combine two or more different types of beans: pinto beans would be classic, but black beans are also very good. Even black-eyed peas or kidney beans combine pretty seamlessly with the typical seasonings.

There are a few things to remember about beans. First, that they will absorb any flavoring or spices you add to them, as long as they are warm and fully cooked at the time. Second, that they do benefit greatly from said added flavors, particularly acidity or heat. Low sodium beans that have a couple splashes of lime juice and a generous pinch of cayenne and cumin can outshine their salty brethren any day.

Vegan-wise, store bought refried beans need to be checked for lard, a traditional pork based Latin ingredient. It’s also a good idea to seek out low-sodium beans, considering that a main dish sized serving that provides enough protein for a vegetarian meal may be double the suggested (side-dish) serving on the back of the can. If the sodium level is moderately high to begin with, it’ll be astronomically high after doubling. I find that generic brands of beans are often considerably lower in sodium than name brands without even announcing themselves as such, so be sure to check them out.

If you can’t find any good refried beans at the store, it’s not super hard to make homemade. Just sauté some onions and garlic with some olive oil and the seasonings of your choice. Add cooked or canned whole beans with some liquid such as water or veggie broth and mash in the pan (or puree in a blender if you’d rather).  Heat through and adjust flavorings such as salt, pepper and lime juice, and adjust texture too by adding more liquid as necessary. The cool thing about this is you can use any bean you want and add any flavors you want. You can make it super spicy or tangy or garlicky.

  1. Veggies & fruits
Onions and peppers in a grill pan
Fresh, sautéed or grilled veggies can add a tremendous amount of flavor, texture and nutrition to a taco. Grilled or sautéed onions, peppers, and mushrooms top the list for me in terms of flavor. I like to cut onions and bell peppers into long strips and toss them with a little oil and spices and throw them in a grill pan until they are softened and browned to my liking. Mushrooms for tacos are good sautéed with minced garlic until they release their juices and get lightly browned. Other grilled veggies that are good in tacos: zucchini, eggplant, and corn. If you’re feeling experimental, you could try things like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, root vegetables such as potatoes or sweet potatoes, or squash.

Raw tomatoes and sweet onions can add a lot to a taco too. Cilantro is a somewhat divisive ingredient—you either love or hate it. I like it, but I usually use a light hand with it, or serve it on the side so people can make up their own minds about it. Fresh chives or green onions are another fresh herb that’s a good choice.

As far as the greens are concerned, switching out the iceberg for some shredded cabbage would be authentic and nutritious. Kale and broccoli slaw are options too. You can also try tossing your greens with a compatibly flavored dressing before adding them instead of putting them on plain; that can be a major flavor boost.

Sometimes pickled, brined or marinated vegetables are used in tacos as well, particularly spicy ones. This can make a very zesty addition.

Tangy fresh fruits such and mango and pineapple make killer taco ingredients. Some fruits (pineapple, peaches) can be grilled as well.

  1. Salsa, Guacamole and other toppings
    Fresh Pico do Gallo with mangoes
A big fresh bowl of Pico de Gallo or other fresh cut salsa/ salsa cruda can seriously make my day. And my taco. It’s a good, tasty way to up your quota of fresh vegetables without having to be dutiful about it.  This is the ingredient that I use to jazz up my tacos more often then any other, and it never disappoints. The mango version is particularly good. Regular jarred salsas are good too.

Homemade Guacamole
Authentic, 100% avocado guacamoles are almost always vegan. Mediocre, mayonnaise with green food coloring versions generally are not. Guacamole is something that is worth making from scratch anyway, since it’s so fast and easy. Here’s my recipe. Mock-guacs based on other pureed green vegetables are an option if you need to keep a very tight reign on your fat intake, although they’ll never fool you completely. Edamame based mock-guacs have the best flavor of those I have tried. Other people swear by peas, asparagus or lima beans. Most mock-guacs benefit greatly from a generous amount of onions, garlic and spices.  If you can spare the fat, do splurge on the real stuff once in while. It’s heart healthy unsaturated fat after all.

Faux cheese, melted directly on a tortilla
Faux dairy such as soy sour creams and vegan cheeses are a nice option if you can get them. A bit of a splurge nutritionally, and sometimes financially, but I don’t mind that in moderation. Meltable vegan cheeses will have a better chance of actually melting if spread in a thin layer on top of the tortilla as you soften it than merely mixed into the filling. If you decide to make your own tofu sour cream, you could try making it tangier than usual with extra lemon/lime juice to better approximate crema, if you wish, or puree in other compatible ingredients such as cilantro.

Nutritional yeast sauces may be more common in vegan mac and cheese recipes, but they’re good in tacos as well, both in the filling and spooned over the top enchilada style.

  1. Seasonings
Commercial spice mixes as well as many restaurant house seasonings typically contain three primary ingredients other than salt and MSG: onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. This is partly because they are cheap, since they are made from vegetables and not imported spices. But it’s also because they really work when it comes to building a good flavor base. So these three are a good start when it comes to creating a any homemade spice mix that approximates the flavor of other options without the sodium and additives.

Another key Latin spice is cumin. Despite its presence numerous curries and other spicy food, cumin itself does not provides any heat itself, just flavor, so don’t shy away from it in mild mixes. Dried oregano and thyme are typical herb choices.
I also like to add cinnamon to my taco seasoning. I think it makes it taste more complex and balanced.

For heat cayenne pepper or re pepper flakes would be an option.  So would chile or chili powder mixes, or even just black pepper if you’re generous enough with it. FYI, chile powder = ground dried chile peppers, chili powder = spice mix that includes peppers but also cumin and other spices typical in chili soup.

A certain amount of salt is necessary for restaurant style results. This can be decreased some with salt-free seasoning mixes such as lemon pepper, but not completely. It’s up to you how far you want to go.

If you taste your seasoned taco filling and can’t quite put your finger on what’s missing, try adding a pinch of sugar. It can balance out acidity and bring the other flavors together.

Incorporating Seasonings into your taco: Many of the spices involved taste much better if lightly toasted, especially in oil, than they do added raw. A handy way to do this is to take any ingredient you’re planning on sautéing anyway such as onions or other vegetables or a faux meat filling and adding the spices for the last couple minutes in the frying pan. This will not only make the spices taste better but also thoroughly infuse the other ingredients with more flavor.

  1. Taco “meat”
If you were raised on meaty tacos, you may find your tacos missing something even if they’re full of beans and veggies. I generally find omnivore guests seem to prefer having the fake meat there as an option as well. Don’t worry, the texture and flavor of ground meat is very easy to fake, especially with plenty of spices.

  1. Rice or other grains
Plain rice, whether brown or white, can always be added to bulk up a taco. However, I think the best form of rice for tacos is pilaf style. This is a method that involves toasting and flavoring the rice, so that you end up with a highly flavored, generally firm textured, rice that really contributes to the taco instead of just lying there.

Brown rice, toasted and flavored with tomato paste
To make pilaf style rice: Saute some onions and garlic, and possibly other veggies such as peppers or mushrooms. When they are mostly done, add raw rice and toast it for a few minutes in the sautéing oil, until the grains smell nutty. Then add the proper amount of liquid needed to cook the rice, more typically veggie broth than water, salt and pepper, and any additional flavorings that apply. For Latin style pilafs, a tablespoon or two of tomato paste and some cumin works nicely. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer low until done, resisting the urge to stir excessively. Stir in any addition ingredients that don’t benefit from long simmering at the end, such as fresh cilantro or other herbs, and stuff into your taco.

This method works just as well for brown rice as white, as long as you use the appropriate cooking time and amount of liquid. It also works for other grains and even grain shaped pastas.

  1. Miscellaneous Add-ins
Basically whatever sounds good to you. Green or Black olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts as well as more unusual things such as some forms of edible cactus.

  1. Form/Assembly
The truth is, once you have the methods and ingredients for a killer taco night down, it’s not going to take much to turn it into a killer fajita or enchilada night. Just a few tweaks here and there. Here are some different options:

    • Enchiladas
Enchiladas with nutritional yeast sauce
Merely roll up or fold your favorite taco fillings in tortillas and drench with a nice chile sauce, heat, and you basically have enchiladas. You can experiment with different sauces—the other day I mixed some salsa into some leftover nutritional yeast sauce and used it as an enchilada sauce. It was pretty good. Verde (green) sauce is a common variation, and there are classic versions that even have their own names: enchiladas with mole sauce are called enmoladas, and ones drenched in a thinned refried beans sauce are called enfrijoladas.

I’ve also had burritos/tacos served with so much juicy sautéed veggies, salsa and guacamole spooned on top to the point that the tortilla softens and the dish becomes enchilada-esque without quite crossing over. It’s quite good.

    • Burritos
Burritos are basically overgrown tacos folded a bit differently, so there’s no big adjustment required. If you’re aiming one of those really big restaurant style burritos, keep in mind that they start out with very large tortillas—ten to twelve inches in diameter. Little six-inch tortillas have no chance of maintaining structural integrity with similar amounts of filling.

Folding burritos that stay together is much easier if you start with softened (briefly heated) tortillas. Just place them in the microwave or a dry skillet for about 30 seconds, until warm and floppy. It’ll fold without tearing that way.

Another tip is to lightly smearing the edges where the seams will be with something that can act as glue, such as refried beans or guacamole.
Finally, if you are having trouble with sogginess and falling apart, reconsider your dry-to-wet ingredient ratio, decreasing the amount of runny salsas or sauces and increasing absorbent ingredients like rice.

Some restaurants also like to take the assembled burrito and cook it briefly seam side down on a dry frying pan or griddle to help it seal. It’s worth a try.

    • Tostadas/Taco Salads
A tortilla could of course be deep-fried into a bowl shape and then filled, restaurant-style, but who deep-fries regularly these days?

A better option is to bake or grill the tortilla until crispy instead. It can be left flat and then have the fillings merely piled on top, or some effort could be made to shape it into a bowl by pressing it into a small baking dish.

The simplest way to the simulate crispy chip-like tostada shell is to just use a layer of tortilla chips with filling piled on top. It doesn’t look quite as pretty, but it tastes quite similar.

    • Nachos
      Vegan Nachos
Speaking of chips, the classic application would be nachos. These can include basically anything that goes in a taco, including salsa, beans, faux meat, guacamole and more.  Cheese is traditionally prominent; you can omit it entirely or try and substitute it with fake cheese or a nutritional yeast sauce

Sometimes I like to serve the chips separately from the toppings instead of piling them on top in order to prevent sogginess and make scooping easier.

    • Quesadillas
Here’s my favorite quesadilla recipe. The truth is, any taco filling can be used in a quesadilla as long as they’re spread out thin enough to work.

    • Fajitas
Fajita w/ grilled strips of onion and pepper
The term fajita to me basically means a taco with grilled strips of something or other as a prominent feature. Traditionally it would be strips of meat of course, but grilled strips of onion, bell pepper and Portobello mushroom would work as well in a vegan version. So would grilled strips of seitan or another meat substitute, or a combination of all of the above.

So there you go. All the tips I can think of for a great, healthy Latin Feast. Enjoy, and happy Cinco!

Vegan Taco “Meat” Filling

Here is the recipe I use when I want a faux meat taco filling. The general technique, with slight flavor tweaks, is also useful for other recipes that call for flavorful ground meat fillings, such as for stuffed vegetables like bell peppers or ragu fillings for lasagna or moussaka. By the way, you could use a commercial taco seasoning mix if you can find a vegan version instead of the spices I have listed if you like.

Vegan faux meat taco filling

Vegan Taco “Meat”

1 Tbsp oil (can use more for extra richness if you like)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped onion
Any other sauté-able veggies that you want, such as bell peppers or mushrooms
½ tsp soy sauce (optional)

1 cup TVP, reconstituted in 1 cup water or veggie broth
12 to 16 oz of your favorite ground meat substitute (see note*)

1 cup tomato sauce ( may need less for alternate meat subs)

Spices (feel free to double):
1 ½ tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp lemon pepper seasoning
1/8 tsp cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
Additional heat in the form of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)

cooking the onion and garlic
Saute the garlic and onion (and optional veggies) in the oil until softened and lightly browned. Adding a bit of salt or soy sauce at this point will speed up the process a little; it’s up to you. Meanwhile, reconstitute your TVP in water or broth or otherwise prep your alternative ground meat substitute as necessary—some require thawing, precooking or soaking. When you’re ready, dump your TVP/meat sub into the sauté pan with the veggies and start browning. Add in the spices at this point too.
Taco Spices

After a few minutes, things should be looking pretty dry and a bit browned. Stir in tomato sauce, using more or less depending on whether you want the final product to be saucy or dry, and also on which meat sub you using (lentils and TVP tend to suck up more liquid than others).

 Cook a few minutes more, until you have reached your desired consistency. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Stuff into a tortilla with some beans and salsa and enjoy.

*Note on ground meat substitutes: your options are actually quite extensive here. Effective vegan ground meat substitutes include (but are not limited to): TVP, coarsely mashed cooked lentils or beans, bulgur, shredded or chopped seitan, crumbled tempeh, crumbled veggie burgers, commercial ground fake meat products or any combination thereof. If you try all of these you will probably develop a preference, based on flavor or nutrition. My favorite for crumbly applications such as this is TVP granules, re-hydrated in warm water for five minutes. I like how cheap and low sodium they are. You can season the re-hydrating water for added flavor, by the way.  For firm, shaped applications such as meatballs or meatloaf, my favorite is mashed lentils, particularly mixed 2 to 1 with bulgur or TVP. Commercial products are also very convenient; that’s what I have pictured here today. FYI, if you happen to have fake meats lying around that are shaped like cutlets or sausage links, etc., instead of ground, you can always chop them up finely and use them instead. 

Piping hot and ready to be stuffed into a taco

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Recipe Index

An index of blogged recipes, most recent first:


Vegan Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Black Cherry Almond Pie, with Vegan Olive Oil Pie Crust (Pie Day Post)

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Mini-Cheesecakes

Vegan Chocolate Wafer Cookies & Icebox Cake 

Vegan Chocolate Éclair Cake (with Vegan Vanilla pudding and Chocolate Glaze)

Vegan Whole Wheat English Muffin Bread

Vegan Mixed Berry Shortcakes with Soft, Fluffy Whole Wheat Biscuits

Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Sticky Bun Cake* for Virtual Vegan Potluck

Vegan Double Chocolate Cookies*

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Pie*

Three different kinds of Vegan Brownies (Rich, reduced fat and sugar free)

Vegan Caramelitas

Unusual Vegan Pies (Ground Cherry and Rhubarb Pie, Zucchini Cream Pie (Mock Coconut),  Easy Hand Pies/Turnovers)

Fancy Pumpkin Sweet Potato Streusel Pie

Pumpkin Spice bread

Pear-Almond Crisp

Vegan Tapioca Pudding

Grandmas Fruit Salad

Unbelievably Easy Vegan Peanut Butter Pie
with Banana Variation

Black Forest Chocolate-Cherry Cobbler with Quick Chocolate Sauce

Miscellaneous Things Covered in Chocolate

Vegan Caramels and Chocolate Covered Caramels

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles*

Vegan Chocolate Covered Cherries

Vegan Rocky Road Candy

Vegan Crispy Cornmeal Cookies

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Spiced Apples

Very Healthy Pecan Pie
with Walnut Coconut Variation


Vegan Mock Runny Egg, on Toast or an English Muffin

Scrambled Tofu Rancheros 

White Bean and Leek Soup

Easy Lemony Glazed Carrots (Low-Cal)

Curried Apple and Onion Pan Sauce

Fancy Vegan Caesar Salad

Double Cucumber Hummus Wraps

Cheaper Hummus

Moroccan Spiced Garbanzo Beans with Toasted Couscous

Vegan Taco "Meat" Filling

Mashed Tofu Cutlets

Thin and Crunchy Tofu Strips (Mock Bacon)

Mashed Garbanzo and Artichoke Sandwich Spread

Vegan Parsley Walnut Pesto, Kale Almond Pesto,  and Italian Flavored White Beans

Vegan Alfredo Style White Pasta Sauce

Refreshing Quinoa Salad

Easy Vegan Potato Salad

Slow Cooker Red Lentil and Sweet Potato

Quick Vegan Quesadillas

Baked Tofu Sticks with Peanut Sauce, Lemon Sauce, "Ranch" Sauce*

Vegan Sweet and Sour Cabbage Rolls

My Favorite Vegan Tofu Omelet*

Golden Mushroom Gravy

Pumpkin Artichoke Lasagna

Seitan Pot Pie with Mushrooms and Pearl Onions

Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, Coleslaw, Carrot-Cranberry Salad, Dessert Salsa/ Fruit Salad, Baked Cinnamon Chips

Vegan Grilled Cheese, Apple and Avocado Sandwich


Vegan Taco Night

Techniques for Making Homemade Vegan Chocolates

Vegan Thanksgiving Main Dish Ideas

Liven Up Your Lasagna

* pictured on blog header