Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meal for Aji: Sweet Potato-Ginger Soup, Soft Curried Vegetables, Brown Basmati Rice

I realize that today's is a long post on my blog, so let me start off with the way I made the dishes today. There is ample discussion following this :-) .

Sweet Potato-Ginger Soup (makes about 3 cups)

  1. Chop a medium or large sweet potato quickly into maybe a half dozen chunks to allow it to cook faster, and put in boiling water; it should be mostlly cooked (a fork can go into the flesh relatively easily) after about 5 minutes, after which you should drain the potato; add the potato to a VitaMix blender (you can try another kind of blender)
  2. Add to the blender half of a medium tomato (ideally, a heirloom variety; for color, try to use red or yellow, and avoid (mature) green tomato varieties like green zebras
  3. Add to the blender half of a large apple (I used Pink Lady, perhaps our favorite variety)
  4. Put in to the blender a medium carrot, quickly hand broken into quarters or so
  5. Add a teaspoon of fresh ginger, a little hot pepper (I used about a fifth of a habanero pepper but was careful to not touch the pepper; certainly a quarter jalapeno would have been a fine choice, as well), and one shallot (with the skin removed!)
  6. I like soups thick, so added about 1/4 cup of raw cashews to thicken this soup, but the cashew could be left out
  7. Finally, add a vegan bouillon cube and 1 1/2 cups of water, along with a dash or two of salt
  8. Blend on low (I used "4" on VitaMix's 10-point scale) for 15 seconds or so, and then run on high for 5-6 minutes till steamy
  9. Serve with a little freshly ground black pepper

Changes I'd make next time: I loved the soup but would make it just a little less hinting of sweetness by using less than a half apple - perhaps a quarter apple. The soup had a subtle ginger flavoring, but optionally could use a little more ginger. I loved the habanero flavor and was happy that the pepper was perhaps not so hot as habaneros are reputed to be. A small pinch of ground cumin might be beneficial. I wonder if a little crushed peanut on top would be good. But the soup was also great as I made it this time!

Soft Curried Vegetables (for 3-4 people)

  1. Cut up about 10 small red potatoes into a fine 3/8" dice and put them into boiling water.
  2. About 2 minutes later, add a crookneck squash cut into 1/4" slices then quartered
  3. After another 2 minutes, add about 18 okras, sliced to 1/2" thick sections
  4. When the potato is cooked (after a total of about 12 minutes), remove the vegetables from the heat and drain
  5. In a saute pan, saute half of an onion that has been cut to a 1/4" dice
  6. A minute later, add half a dozen cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/4" thick
  7. Cook another minute or so, then add the drained vegs
  8. Add 1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger and 1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds; a little jalapeno can be added (I didn't), as well
  9. Cook another minute or so, then add 1/4 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1/8 teaspoon paprika, and a pinch of salt
  10. Cook 2 or 3 minutes till the vegetables are softened even more as the water has been absorbed, then serve.

Brown Basmati Rice

  1. Put a ratio of 1 part rice to 2 parts water into a heavy-bottomed pan.
  2. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 45-50 minutes.
  3. Let stand a few minutes then fluff and serve.

We had a very nice long weekend Friday-Monday in the lovely town of Asheville in the mountains of Western North Carolina. There are many restaurants that we love there; our "must visits" are our previous favorite, Laughing Seed (the longest-open vegetarian restaurant in town, a nice, delicious place), Nine Mile (not a vegetarian restaurant but one which offers most dishes that are already or can be vegan - it's a really neat place that makes Jamaican-inspired pasta), Firestorm Cafe and Books (opposite the pub underneath Laughing Seed, a worker-owned radical bookstore and vegan cafe), and one we missed this time, Rosetta's Kitchen (an informal vegetarian restaurant that stays open most nights till 11p and Friday / Saturday nights till 3a!).

We were excited to keep up the last few months with news of the upcoming opening of a brand new gourmet vegan restaurant, Plant! We were pretty sure that this would take Laughing Seed's place as our favorite Asheville restaurant, and I think it has! Plant's head chef is Jason Sellers, who was a vegan chef for Laughing Seed for some years. Owners Alan Berger and Leslie Armstrong put together a beautiful space with a great menu of Jason's, and it just opened on August 16th, ten days before our trip to Asheville. We had our first meal in Asheville there, and were quite impressed.

Anyway, the purpose of the trip was to have a first annual family reunion on my wife's side. (It was a very nice reunion - my wife has such a nice, accomplished, soft-spoken, and kind family! Plus my daughter has a cousin who is six days older than she is, and they had a blast together!) Part of the plan was to bring Sangeeta's cousin's grandmother (Aji, or grandmother in the Marathi language) home with us for 2 nights; she is such a sweet and gentle person. She seems to be having a good time with us, but I was a little nervous cooking for her because I know she likes Indian food, which I do cook on occasion, but which isn't a specialty, and because I heard she likes very spicy food and can't chew well, so needs soft food.

She is only here for one dinner, and that was tonight. I thought I'd make a curried vegetable dish and make sure that the vegetables were cooked enough to be soft, and serve it with brown Basmati rice. Why not a soup, as well?

I had a few sweet potatoes on hand, and found a VitaMix blender recipe for Sweet Potato Soup that I decided to try out. I've noted in the past that some of my early experimentation with ad hoc soup recipes didn't come out well, but recently I've also noted some success. So I felt reasonably confident that I could try making some changes.

The recipe called for blending for 5-6 minutes till steamy: a baked sweet potato, a Roma tomato, 1/2 of a large apple, a medium carrot, 2T tomato paste, a vegetable bouillon cube, and 1 1/2 cups of water. This makes 3 cups of soup. I didn't have a Roma but did have a heirloom tomato, which I am sure added more flavor. I didn't want to open a can of tomato paste just for 2T and, besides thickening, didn't see what benefit the paste would have (I like thicker soups, so was planning on adding cashews, anyway).

Our home-delivery farmer's market service delivered three habanero hot peppers carefully wrapped separately in a plastic bag - I've never considered using or even touching these peppers that measure 100,000 and over on the Scoville scale, but Aji is said to like hot food, so I thought I'd put a little in the soup - and I'm glad that I did.

The verdict: my wife and I enjoyed the entire meal. Aji said she loved the soup and wanted the recipe. She seemed to like the vegetables but not as much as the soup. I'd love to make this soup again!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Carrot-Ginger Soup, Lentils with Mixed Vegetables, Roasted Eggplant and Onion and Potato with Tahini and Hot Sauce

(I don't know why this post is formatting so strangely!) My wife has a very nice family; we had the pleasure of a visit from her cousin and her family, who drove from Wisconsin and arrived tonight for dinner. They were coming from a few days in Washington, D.C. and brought us treats from Sticky Fingers (I love their sticky buns!)!

I was a little nervous because my wife's cousin was traveling with her elder Mother, who was visiting from India. I was hoping that I would be able to put something together appealing to her - and I found earlier in the day that she can't chew well. I knew I'd be making my carrot-ginger soup and thought that I would make a very soft vegetable (which I did, with French Lentils), but my wife's niece told me that she would probably enjoy soup with rice.

Rice? We make uttapam, a fermented lentil-rice South Indian "pancake pizza" almost every day for my daughter, and I offered that - which was met with enthusiasm. (She ended up enjoying the soup and uttapam, and even ate a bit of the lentil dish, which she said she liked, as well.)

I thought that I would make, in addition to the soup, a dish with French lentils; it's so easy to cook with them. The general method that I use is to start with a little oil in a stock pot. I briefly saute over medium-low heat a few vegetables then toss in maybe a quarter teaspoonful of cumin seeds and saute just a quarter or half minute more (cumin would taste bad if burnt!). I then add water and French lentils in a ratio of 1 part lentil to 3 parts water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30-45 minutes. I did that tonight, using a wide variety of diced vegetables, including onion, mushroom, baby bok choy, red bell pepper, a bit of jalapeno, banana pepper, and broccoli.

I liked the lentil dish, and it did seem to go over well, but I loved another dish that I made, roasted vegetables. I put a little olive oil on a baking pan and then spread in a single layer medium (a bit shy of 1/2") slices of eggplant. I drizzled a little oil on top after sprinkling 1/4" thick half-moon slices of half an onion. I prepared a second baking sheet similarly, but used two Russet potatoes, I baked in a preheated 375°F oven for about 35-40 m, flipping half-way (when I flipped, I ended up just mixing the two baking sheets and consolidating into one). When done, I mixed in about a tablespoon or so of tahini, several shakes of vinegar-based hot sauce, some fresh lemon sage and rosemary, and some dried oregano, as well as a little salt. I think it came out great!

Along with the soup, slices of heirloom tomato and radish (oh, what is this nice variety called?) completed the meal. It was filling and tasty.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cubed Tempeh with Asparagus and Raw Grape Tomatoes, Rosemary-Shallot Mashed Potatoes

I wanted to use up about ten spears of asparagus that I had, and had the idea of integrating raw tomatoes in a cooked meal. Here is what I did:
  1. I chopped 2/3 of a package of tempeh into 3/4" cubes and began sauteeing them over medium-high heat in a combination of Meyer lemon-infused and plain extra virgin olive oil
  2. As the tempeh browned over maybe 5 minutes, I added about ten spears of asparagus, cut into small 1/4" slices, and one clove of garlic, finely diced
  3. I didn't cook the asparagus or garlic long, just 2 or 3 minutes till the green color intensified
  4. I added about 3/4 teaspoon diced fresh ginger and cooked another minute or so to leave the ginger juicy
  5. I removed from the heat and mixed in perhaps 20 small lemon sage leaves, a few drops of fresh lime, a pinch of salt and just a bit of salt-free jerk seasoning, and about a dozen small grape tomatoes, cut into halves.
Dinner also included mashed potatoes with more rosemary needles than I thought would be good (maybe 18), but which turned out well, as well as a small shallot, thinly cut. We enjoyed the meal! I would like to explore more combining raw tomatoes with cooked ingredients, such as perhaps with pasta.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Subtly spiced quinoa with asparagus, leftover seitan-cabbage-kale

Monday, August 22, 2011

Okra, Vegan Sausage, Cranberry Red Potato, Mushroom, Spinach with Garlic, Brown Rice Noodles, and Turkish Acılı Ezme served w Avocado and Grape Tomato

Last night, we enjoyed, as we do each year, the puppet show by Paperhand Puppet Intervention. After the show, we went out to eat at Talulla's, a very nice Turkish restaurant that has many vegan choices.

One of the dishes that we had as an appetizer was Acili Ezme, "a spread made of spicy red peppers, tomatoes, green peppers, walnuts and Aegean olive oil" (I just found a recipe for it online). We thought that this was a dip that we had enjoyed in the past, but when it came out, both my wife and I found it really too spicy to enjoy. We somehow ate a little with the bread that they served, but brought most of it home - I realized that this could be a great dish-maker diluted with, what I was thinking then, rice.

When considering further tonight, I decided to make today's main dish more vegetable than grain centered. Here is what I did (serving with avocado and grape tomato) - we both loved the dish:

  1. I started with a half dozen Cranberry Red (also known as "All Red") potatoes, which I chopped into small 3/8" cubes. I purchased these local organic potatoes at the Carrboro Farmer's Market; they are red on the outside and pink inside. They are firm and taste good boiled (e.g., for a potato salad) or sauteed. I sauteed the potatoes over medium-high, using Meyer lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil.
  2. While the potatoes were cooking, I soaked a handful of brown rice noodles in hot tap water.
  3. About 4 or 5 minutes into the cooking, I added two Field Roast Grain Meat Company's apple-sage artisanal vegan sausages that I had cut into similar sized cubes as the potato.
  4. Just after that, I added a clove (not an entire bulb!) of garlic, finely diced.
  5. After another 3 or 4 minutes, when the sausage was starting to brown, I added 15-20 small-medium spears of okra, cut into halves lengthwise
  6. A minute or two later, I added a dozen or so cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters.
  7. A minute or two later, with the dish basically done, I added a handful of baby spinach leaves.
  8. I let the spinach cook down for just a minute or so, then added the drained brown rice noodles.
  9. I stirred till the noodles were cooked, then mixed in the leftover Acili Ezme (I had about an eighth of a cup of it) and a dash of salt - and served!

What a nice ingredient the Acili Ezme is! I will plan to pick more up from the restaurant and use it in other dishes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Butternut Squash with Bell Pepper and Onion, Ramen Noodles with Chickpea Salad, Neighborly Tomatoes

We were out this evening; my wife then dropped me off to make dinner and feed our daughter while she attended to an errand. Time was short so I had to innovate a bit more than usual.

We had gone to a vegan baby shower on Saturday and had leftover from that event a prepared chickpea salad that we had purchased from Whole Foods. I made a simple but surprisingly good dish by boiling basic Ramen noodles. I mixed in the salad and topped with a dollop of fresh tahini sauce.

I had some frozen butternut squash chunks. I steamed in a pan with a little bit of water for maybe 5 minutes till the squash softened. I drained the pan and drizzled on a little Meyer lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil. I returned to medium-high heat, uncovered and about a half minute later, added half of an onion cut into half moons that were halved lengthwise, and another two minutes or so later, a quarter bell pepper, diced to about twice the width of the onion. When the onion was clear, I added a dash of cumin seed and cooked another minute or so. I mixed in a little salt and jerk seasoning, about a dozen small lemon sage leaves from my garden, and a few drops of vinegar-based hot sauce. It came out well!

We found on our porch a bag of freshly picked tomatoes from our neighbors across the street. I included them (they were yummy!!) and avocado to round out dinner.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Kale with Cabbage and Seitan, Roasted Eggplant with Tahini, Madagascar Pink Rice

I had a bunch of kale and about a third of a cabbage that I wanted to use up. I first cut up a package of seitan into matchsticks and began sauteeing over medium-high heat in Meyer lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil. I let it cook till the seitan was nice and crispy, maybe 10-12 minutes.

As the seitan cooked, I finely chopped the kale stems and began boiling them. After about five minutes, I added the kale leaves, hand torn to roughly 3/4" squares, and the cabbage, chopped into approximately 1/2" x 1 1/4" strips.

I cooked for just 2 or 3 minutes till the kale was darker in color and the cabbage softened a bit. I added several pickled red peppers, coarsely chopped, and briefly toasted pine nuts, and mixed in a little salt and freshly ground black pepper.

I also put a little bit of olive oil on both sides of thickly (maybe 1/2" or 5/8" thick) cut eggplant and roasted in my toaster oven over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, till cooked. I served the eggplant with some tahini and hot sauce. Dinner was good!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tempeh Saute with Raw Cherry Tomato Halves over Brown Rice Noodles, Corn-off-the-Cob with Lime Juice

I have wanted for years to serve very lightly sauteed vegetables (just a few, perhaps only tomatoes) over pasta. Tonight, I made a dish inspired by that thought - but still have to make the original dish idea.

  1. I sliced half of a medium yellow onion into thin 3/8" thick half moons and began sauteeing over medium-high heat
  2. I took two large handfuls of brown rice noodles and let them soak in a large bowl of very hot tap water
  3. I cut up a bit more than half of a container of tempeh into thick matchsticks, perhaps 1 1/4" long by 1/2" square, and started sauteeing them once the onion started getting clear, maybe in 3-4 minutes
  4. I let the onion and tempeh cook for maybe 7-10 minutes till the tempeh was medium-brown, then added half of a bell pepper cut into thin strips maybe 3/4" long, as well as a medium clove of finely chopped garlic
  5. After a few more minutes when the tempeh was golden brown, I drizzled on a little vinegar-based hot sauce and maybe 2-3T of raw coconut aminos (giving a soy-sauce like flavor); I turned the heat off and stirred, letting the liquid sizzle and get cooked into the food
In the meantime, I drained and did a quick boil of the noodles, and served the tempeh saute atop the noodles, with raw halved cherry tomatoes on top of it all. I had wanted to put some toasted sesame seeds at the periphery of the noodles, but we were out.

I also flame-roasted two ears of organic corn, stripped the kernels, and served with a few drops of fresh lime juice, a dash of salt, and about a tablespoonful of Earth Balance non-hydrogenated margarine. Avocado slices completed the meal. My wife and I loved the pasta!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Almond Grain Burger with Peach Salsa, Hashed Brown Potatoes with Brussels Sprouts and Bell Pepper

My wife picked up a tempting looking peach salsa yesterday and I decided to try it atop an almond grain burger, a frozen burger that includes ingredients like spelt, soybean, okara, almond butter, carrot, lentil, and amaranth.

I first made a side dish by sauteeing, over medium-high heat in extra virgin olive oil, about half of an onion cut into thin (1/4") half moons. As the onion cleared, I added maybe a cup of shredded potatoes. As the potato just started browning I added first a dozen Brussels sprouts cut into more or less 1/4" matchsticks and, a minute later, about a quarter bell pepper cut into 3/8" x 1" or so strips. I cooked a few more minutes and then sprayed on a little roasted garlic juice and mixed in a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Preparing the burger was a simple matter of heating each side for about 3 minutes and putting it atop a whole grain slice of bread with mixed greens, and topping it with the salsa. Wow, that salsa was so good that it really made the sandwich tasty! It was a simple but tasty dinner, made complete with an avocado half.

By the way, after dinner, I was excited to see that Michael Greger, MD, has a nice new site,, that he has begun. It is going to be formally launched in a week. As the site describes, Dr. Greger "scours the world of nutrition-related research, as published in scientific journals, and brings that information to you in short, easy to understand video segments. We also provide links to the original journal articles whenever possible so that you can source the information directly, if you so desire." This sounds great and promises to be a valuable resource.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Acorn Squash stuffed with Corn and Smoky Tomato, Roasted Eggplant, Roasted Dutch Yellow Potato, Leftover Okra-Kale-Zucchini

We had several eggplants, acorn squash, and several leftovers (okra-kale-zucchini dish I had from Tuesday and the corn with smoky tomato from our event last Sunday) that I wanted to use in tonight's dinner. I made a simple meal that accomplished this (well, I used one of the eggplants) tonight.

I halved the squash and roasted it in a 350°F oven, face down in a pie plate with a little bit of water. I also cut slices of the eggplant and drizzled some Meyer lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil on both sides, and roasted it, as well as halved Dutch Yellow potatoes, tossed with the oil and some rosemary. The total roasting time was about 45 minutes.

I served the squash stuffed with the corn. I heated the leftover okra dish as well. Dinner was good!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Cauliflower-stuffed Malaysian-style Paratha, Leftover Dhal and Black Chickpeas from Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe

Last night after a photography class that I taught, we went out to see a free outdoor movie (the classic Hitchock film, North by Northwest) and picnicked on food that we picked up from one of our favorite restaurants, Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe. Her food is always abundant, so we had leftovers, which I used in tonight's meal.

I served her tasty dhal (this one was pasty and not like a soup) and black chickpeas with a cauliflower stuffed Malaysian-style paratha (which we picked up recently from an Indian store). Neighbors gave us tasty tomatoes that they had grown; I put a little Meyer lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil (just a drop or two), salt, and freshly ground pepper on the tomatoes, and served with Sungold tomatoes, fresh basil, and a few breaded mushrooms that were leftover from Cafe Parizade from last Sunday.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Sauteed Okra, Kale, Zucchini, Cabbage, 2 types Mushroom) with Dutch Yellow Potatoes

I finished up the leftover Alfredo sauce from this past Saturday in tonight's dinner. We had received nice home-grown produce from friends on Sunday and got even more today in our home-delivery "farmer's market". I made a simple sautee of vegetables, cutting most to be thin and maybe 3/4" in length, and put some of the Alfredo sauce in when the vegetables were done, heating just another minute or so.

I sprinkled some hot sauce on top and served with our friends' homegrown tomato, as well as slices of boiled Dutch Yellow potatoes. It all came out well! That Alfredo sauce is a winner!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Leftover Pesto Bowtie Pasta and Smoky Corn with Tempeh

A friend is moving to Korea for a year to teach English and when I called her early this evening to see when we can say bye, we decided that we would go over with dinner to her home. We had a good amount of leftovers from last night's nice party (the menu included breaded mushrooms, two kinds of pasta, corn with smoky tomato and jalapeno, Shepherd's Pie, several dips, gazpacho soup, mashed potatoes, gravy, pastries, and more - all vegan, of course), so it made it easy.

I made a simple side of sauteed tempeh at our friends' home. I served with reheated leftover bow-tie pesto pasta and smoky tomato and jalapeno corn, along with salad from yesterday's meal. Some fresh champagne mango was dessert.