Soupe de la Semaine: Vegetable & Rice Soup [Instant Pot® recipe] [Vegan optional]

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Please, anything but this.

This soup was borne out of a need to use up a bunch of celery before it went south. [Seems like I make a lot of “necessity” soups.] Being an enterprising lad, I Googled “celery soup,” and got about 1.83 bazillion recipes for Cream of Celery Soup. I don’t want to demean the good folks whose soup provided Andy Warhol such a rich vein to mine for his art, but the cream of celery soup of my youth was possibly the worst-period-soup-period-ever. It was always the last can in the cupboard, and was only ever served out of dire necessity. To be fair, I think the only reason my mom kept any in the first place was so that it could be used as a sauce for some sort of ’60s casserole that has mercifully and permanently gone out of fashion. Fortunately, my Google Fu skills are strong, and I eventually landed on what appeared to be a terrific recipe by Martha Rose Shulman of the NY Times. It was modified to fit my ingredients, but it’s fairly faithful to the original.

Stop me if I’m sounding like a broken record here, but if there are two things I could ever want you to take away from this blog, they are these:

    1) You can do this. Goodness knows, I’m no chef. But I can make a tasty meal; that’s all anyone ever asks from an amateur.
    2) A recipe is a roadmap. There’s always more than one route to your destination. And, failing that, there are always other destinations.

Perhaps the two most delightful aspects to this recipe are 1) you don’t have to pre-cook the rice (a few minutes at pressure in the Instant Pot® does the job); and 2) you can make it vegan simply by removing the Parmesan cheese. If you can operate a knife, a spoon, a can opener, and a measuring cup, you can make this. You don’t even really need an Instant Pot®. It just will take longer on the stove (probably about 45 minutes to an hour of simmering, depending on how quickly your rice cooks up).

Doesn’t that look like a bowl full of healthy goodness? And we haven’t even added the tomatoes or the stock yet.

Vegetable & Rice Soup
Makes approximately 16 cups / 4 liters

INGREDIENTS
6 celery stalks / 400 g, diced
1/2 red cabbage / 400 g, shredded
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 bell pepper, de-seeded and diced (I used 6 mini peppers instead)
6 garlic cloves, minced
Salt (preferably kosher) and pepper (preferably ground white) to taste
1 cup / 180 g uncooked rice (I used brown basmati)
3 tbsp. / 45 ml extra virgin olive oil (spring for some good oil!)
1 28-ounce / 794 g can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
1 1/2 quarts / 1.5 liters water or vegetable stock (Better Than Bouillon enhanced my stock)
2 tbsp. / 50 g tomato paste
1 teaspoon / 4 g dried thyme
2 tbsp. / 3 g dried parsley flakes (or 1 tbsp. / 4 g fresh parsley)
A small (50 g / 1.75 oz.) Parmesan rind
Celery leaves for garnish (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Chop up celery, cabbage, onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic cloves; place in Instant Pot® container. Sprinkle salt and pepper over vegetables and stir. Add olive oil and uncooked rice to container. Set Instant Pot® to “Sauté” and sweat vegetables, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, until they soften a bit. Add chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock, tomato paste, thyme, parsley, and Parmesan rind (if desired — omit for vegan version). Mix briefly with spoon or spatula. Turn Instant Pot® to “Keep Warm / Cancel,” which will end the sauté function.

Place lid on Instant Pot®, making sure vent is turned toward “Sealing” rather than “Venting.” Press “Soup” button, making sure pressure is on “High.” Set timer for 16 minutes. Go answer some email or vacuum your front room.

When timer goes off, allow Instant Pot® to decompress naturally, or at least for 10 minutes, before carefully switching vent from “Sealing” to “Venting.” Remove lid, and adjust spices as necessary (soup will be hot). Ladle directly into bowls or mugs and garnish with celery leaves and/or grated Parmesan (omit latter for vegan version).

To borrow a phrase, “Mmmm-mmmm good.”

Be a Star and Save the Bucks — Breakfast Egg Bites [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Mmmmm. Eggy.

Even if you don’t follow my formula, you simply have to make these. They are so simple, so satisfying, so tasty, and so (at least potentially) wholesome that they tick off every box I could hope for in a recipe.

Here’s the backstory: A little over a year ago, the bride and I were driving from Northern California to our Los Angeles-area home. It’s about a five hour ride, punctuated by the standard gas and potty breaks, and we often fit in a snack somewhere during a pit stop. Independently, we concluded that fast food, while convenient, was just plain sad, and probably not all that good for us. So we left it behind and began to pack our own road chow. On one trip, though, our planning (read MY planning) was severely deficient, and we were left to the mercy of Interstate 5’s culinary jungle. To make matters more challenging, the bride was on a gluten-free kick, which diminished our already circumscribed choices by about 87.3%. As luck would have it, Starbucks (a popular American coffee-and-snack chain, for all you international readers) offered sous vide eggs with cheese and some sort of meat (Gruyere and bacon, as I recall, though there are several variants available now) on their menu. They were — are — delicious. And while I’m not gonna hate on Starbucks for their pricing strategy, let’s just say they were a tad more expensive than a McGutbomb.

Let them eat eggs: $4.45 USD. Less than Beluga, more than filet mignon.

But I digress. I came to praise Starbucks, not to bury it.

Even without a sous vide machine, you can make a very acceptable substitute in your Instant Pot®, and it’s so easy, it’s actually more work to write this down — and probably more even to read it — than to make the recipe.

One thing you’ll likely want is a silicone tray variously described as an egg bites mold or a baby food storage tray or some such. I purchased this pair of molds at Amazon, both because I wasn’t sure what would fit my cooker and because I wasn’t sure how big the finished eggs should be. In retrospect, given that I have an 8-qt. Instant Pot®, I probably should have gotten a pair of the larger trays. Live and learn. There’s nothing wrong in theory with mini-bites, even if I haven’t made them yet. While some folks recommend making these in tiny Mason jars, I think it’s a huge pain in the patootie, cleanup-wise. Egg just loves to weld itself to glass.

Here’s a down-and-dirty roadmap for the eggs I generally prepare for the bride to take to work. It’s super easy, endlessly modifiable, and produces a taste treat which, while not vegan, slides under the ovo-lacto vegetarian bar with ease. If that’s not a dealbreaker for you, the sky’s the limit. Anything you could put in an omelet you can put in these, from oysters to tortilla strips, so let your fancy run amok a bit. Pulled pork with BBQ sauce? Hot dog bites with Dijon mustard? Water chestnuts, scallions, and ginger? Why not? It probably goes without saying (except that I’m saying it now) that if you are concerned about cholesterol, you can modify this “recipe” by substituting egg whites for whole eggs.


Starbucks-style Egg Bites

Makes 7 egg-ish size servings

Cheese and cilantro and tomatoes, oh my.

INGREDIENTS
4 eggs
2 tbsp. / 30 g sour cream (or crema Mexicana, Salvadoreña, Hondureña, or Centroamericana)
1 cup / 125 g grated cheese (I used Monterey Jack) (and remember, this is not a packed cup)
3/4 cup / 40 g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup / 25 g fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon / 2 g pimentón de la Vera
pinch salt
olive oil or canola oil spray to coat the molds
2 cups / 500 ml tap water for the Instant Pot®
aluminum foil

Covered egg tray ready for the steam bath.

DIRECTIONS
Oil egg bite tray and set aside. Chop tomatoes and cilantro, grate cheese, and set aside. In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream, pimentón de la Vera, and salt together until smooth. Fold in the cilantro, tomatoes, and cheese. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Add the water to the Instant Pot® container. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, place it on the Instant Pot® steaming trivet, and lower it into the Instant Pot®. Set to “Steam” for 8 minutes at high pressure, making sure that the vent is set to “Sealing” rather than “Venting.”

Looks like this? You did it right.

When the timer beeps, you can either let the pressure release naturally or carefully move the vent from “Sealing” to “Venting,” making sure to keep your hands clear of the steam. Allow the bites to cool for a few minutes before eating, or put them in the fridge for future use.

Reheat one or two at a time in the microwave for 30 seconds on high and serve.

Incidentally, if you want to make multiple trays at a time, just stack them slightly offset to one another and go for it. I’m guessing you could fit a three-tray stack in the 8-qt. Instant Pot®, which would use up a dozen eggs. Because the bride and I are a duprass, we don’t really have much use for 21 egg bites at one go. Your mileage may vary.

Pro tip: My chef pal Stefhan Gordon turned me on to Vital Farms eggs, which are ethically raised. Of all the horror stories that my anti-omnivore friends trot out, few can compare with the way most commercial/industrial chickens are treated. To make matters worse, egg producers employ a dazzling variety of unregulated terms designed to fool consumers into thinking chickens are being treated better than they actually are. In Southern California, Vital Farms eggs are widely available at supermarkets, and they conform to the highest standards. Yeah, they are maybe a couple bucks more per dozen. But I’m willing — no, make that happy — to spend a quarter per egg to inject a little humanity into my breakfast. Do yourself and your avian friends a good deed, and have a care about sourcing your eggs.

Tourtière Végétalienne [Vegan Vegetable Pie]

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Chef Marie (l.) and cousin Sheryl (r.) performing the Ritual Admiration of the Tourtière ceremony last December.

My great-great-great-great-great grandfather Pierre would disown me.

The very idea of making a vegetable tourtière would be as alien and outlandish to him as, um, reading Gwyneth Paltrow’s Twitter feed. As every Canadian knows, the only way to make this traditional Québécois holiday dish is with pork. Or a blend of pork and another meat. Or wild game. Or maybe the occasional bird. Spice, too, is highly variable from region to region. In fact, Susan Semenak of the Montreal Gazette suggests that each particular recipe may be a “tell” as to one’s genealogy. As you might have intuited, it’s quite the subject of debate, and if you thought Canadians are unfailingly polite, donnybrooks over the dish’s “authenticity” will disabuse you of that notion for good. [Although, to be fair, the CBC Radio host in the previous link responded individually — and no doubt courteously — to all the hate mail she got over a network story on the subject.]

I had a delicious tourtière in Vancouver this past holiday season (see picture at top), but for Lent this year, we’re all vegetarian all the time, so salty tasty pig parts are right out. In my scent memory, tourtière was always more redolent of warm winter spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg) than pork, though, so I figured if I got the seasoning right and the filling didn’t clash, I could pull a decent vegan version together. Since I’ve always found a grilled portabello cap an acceptable substitute for a burger, I started with mushrooms. Potatoes and onions could make the leap from the trad version to this one without effort, but it still seemed to be missing something. I knew that certain ersatz meat-like products are made with lentils, and I had the dregs of a box of lentilles du Puy in the pantry, so in they went. If nothing else, at least they were French. Plus, I love their peppery bite.

[Sidebar: Le Puy lentils ain’t your standard ranch stash legumes. Known as “the poor man’s caviar” and “the pearls of central France,” the lentilles vertes du Puy are sufficiently distinctive to have been awarded their own AOC, much like Champagne and Roquefort cheese. So please don’t just wander down to your local south Asian market and load up on urad dal, good though it may be. Not for this dish.]

I’m not going to lie to you: this is not the sort of recipe of which you can say, “I just tossed everything in the microvection pot, and twelve-point-four minutes later, my family and I were discussing Corsi stats for the Vegas Golden Knights while shoveling forkfuls of a storied Québécois holiday dish into our cavernous pieholes.” On the other hand, none of the steps require a whole lot of sophistication or attention, so it’s pretty easy to pull this together while you are assembling your personal Death Star, extracting ink from a squid, or knitting handcuffs for children.

Tourtière in situ, avec des feuilles d’érable pour l’authenticité.

Tourtière Végétalienne
(serves 8-12)

INGREDIENTS

Tourtière Spice Blend
2 teaspoons / 12 g salt
2 teaspoons / 1 g Herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon / 1½ g thyme
½ teaspoon / 1 g cinnamon
½ teaspoon / 1 g ground ginger
½ teaspoon / 1/3 g marjoram
½ teaspoon nutmeg / 1 g (fresh ground if possible)
½ teaspoon / 1/3 g sage
½ teaspoon / 1/3 g savory
¼ teaspoon / ½ g allspice
¼ teaspoon / ½ g coriander
¼ teaspoon / 1/5 g dry mustard
⅛ teaspoon / ¼ g ground cloves
dash white pepper

Tourtière Filling
2 lb. / 1 kg potatoes, peeled, cooked, and mashed
1 lb. / 500 g crimini mushrooms
75 g dried porcini and Chilean Bolete mushroom mix (about 2 cups rehydrated, or just add another pound of fresh mushrooms)
1 cup / 200 g Le Puy French lentils, cooked (this is a type, not a brand name)
1 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. / 30 ml olive oil

Tourtière Crust
12 oz. / 340 g (about 2¼ – 2½ cups) all purpose flour
½ teaspoon / 3 g salt
1 cup / 2 sticks / 225 g Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks (or some other vegan shortening product)
8-12 tbsp. / 120-175 ml ice water (REALLY COLD!)
1 – 2 teaspoons / 5-10 ml vinegar

DIRECTIONS

For the Tourtière Filling:

You might want to read the directions all the way through once before leaping in; I tried to arrange several discrete steps to minimize waste of time and resources (like hot water). But if you’re doing other things in the meantime, feel free to rearrange the process to suit your schedule.

Assemble the spice blend, stir with a fork to mix, and set aside.

Rehydrate the dried mushrooms in warm water; this will take about half an hour or a bit more, depending on the mushrooms and their thickness. When they are plump, remove them from the water (reserving the water in the process) and rinse the grit off in a colander. Strain the reserved mushroom liquid through a fine sieve and set aside. [It can be used for a sauce or in stock later. It will keep in the fridge for a week, or it can be frozen for future use.] Chop the washed mushrooms and set aside in a bowl. Of course, if you are using all fresh mushrooms, you can skip this step. Wash the fresh mushrooms, chop them roughly, and set aside in a bowl.

Peel potatoes (this can be done while the mushrooms are rehydrating) and cut into quarters. Cover with about 1 – 2 inches (2½ – 5 cm) of water and boil gently in saucepan for between 15-25 minutes, until a knife slides in without resistance. Remove potatoes with slotted spoon and transfer to bowl. Mash potatoes with a pinch of salt and pepper, but no liquid (although if they are too much of a challenge, you could add 1/4 cup or 60 ml of the boiling water and give them a little bit of help).

While potatoes are boiling, rinse lentils and remove debris, if any. After potatoes have been removed from the saucepan, you can cook the lentils in the already-warm potato water, boiling gently for 20 minutes. When they are done, drain them, discarding the potato water, and set aside.

Dice onion, and add it along with the olive oil to a large pan (big enough to hold all the ingredients, which it eventually will). Brown onion, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes or so.

While onions are browning, mince celery and garlic, setting them aside in separate bowls.

After onions have browned, increase the heat under the pan, add minced celery, and sweat it for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Then stir in lentils, minced garlic and spice mix, and cook for about 2-3 more minutes. Reduce heat and fold in mushrooms; simmer, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have softened and released their liquor, about 15 minutes. If mixture seems too dry at any point along the way, add between 2 tablespoons and 1/4 cup (30 – 60 ml) of reserved mushroom rehydrating broth. When mushrooms are cooked, fold in mashed potatoes and mix with wooden spoon so that all ingredients are distributed evenly throughout. When it’s all warm (about 5-10 minutes), taste and adjust spices as necessary. [This usually means a bit of salt and pepper, but if your palate is discerning, you may detect that one element or another of your spice blend has disappeared, so you can fix that as well. Be forewarned: cloves, cinnamon, and ginger are very assertive, so add with caution, if at all.]

Remove from heat and allow to cool at least to room temperature before filling pie.

Here’s your shortening.

DIRECTIONS

For the Tourtière Crust:

Freeze shortening overnight. Chop shortening into small chunks. Add, along with salt and flour, to food processor bowl fitted with “S” blade. Pulse until a “gravelly” dough comes together that will adhere to itself if you pinch it in your hand (think wet sand). Notice little clump at left of photo.

Not quite ready, but close.

Begin adding ice water and vinegar solution a tablespoon or two at a time, and pulsing until dough begins to have enough moisture to cohere. There’s not a great way to explain this in print, which is why there are apprentices and grandmothers. Once you feel it, you will understand. In the meantime, check this vid, and you’ll get a sense of the process. [The video version is done with a pastry cutter rather than a food processor, but you’ll see how the chef gets where she needs to go.]

IMPORTANT SIDEBAR: Keep everything as cold as you can! Warm dough is greasy and soggy dough.

Not quite a 50-50 spilt.

Empty dough from processor and mold into a round-ish lump, wrap with cling film, and pop it into the chill chest — you know it as the refrigerator — to rest for AT LEAST an hour, though overnight is even better. When dough has rested, bring it out onto your rolling surface (I used a big cutting board with a floured silicone mat on top) and cut it in half-ish (the bottom crust needs to be bigger than the top).

In the pan, ready to be filled.

Roll out the dough from the center outwards until you have a sufficiently large crust for the bottom, two to three inches (5 – 7.5 cm) bigger than the pan. Don’t worry about overhang; that will be incorporated later. Once bottom crust is set in pan, fill with mushroom/lentil/potato mix, making sure to distribute it evenly.

Man, I’m stuffed.

Roll out top crust and place on top. This video shows not only shows about how to crimp the dough together, it’s a useful instruction tool on how to make pie dough period (even if his version is not vegan). You’ll need to vent your tourtière just like any pie, to allow steam to escape. You may choose to cut your vents in the shape of maple leaves, or you can just poke the crust a few times with a knife or fork. Have a little fun with it; after all, you’re making pie for dinner. How cool is that?

Vented and crimped.

Bake the filled tourtière for approximately 50 minutes at 175°C / 350°F. Serve warm, or allow to cool to room temp and serve then. Mushroom gravy, a wine reduction sauce, or a vegan mustard “cream” sauce are delightful accompaniments, but they’re going to have to wait for another post, I’m afraid.

Soupe de la Semaine: Sopa de Fideo… sin fideo [Gluten-Free & Vegan] [Instant Pot® recipe]

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¿Dónde está el fideo?

Because I’m not Mexican, I hesitate to call sopa de fideo the ultimate Mexican comfort food soup — probably sopa de tortilla or caldo Mexicano de albóndigas gets the nod there — but it’s certainly in the running for the propreantepenultimate Mexican comfort food soup. For those of you unfamiliar with fideo noodles, they’re like a thin vermicelli (itself the Kate Moss of the spaghetti world), and usually cut in short pieces (generally somewhere between an inch and 4 cm).

Given that the bride is currently on a carb-cutting crusade, I thought spaghetti squash might suitably supplant the original fideo. Nestled in broth, it doesn’t need to bear the weight of being the dish’s focal point, which it does when being substituted, rather unsatisfactorily, for actual spaghetti under a blanket of Bolognese. The Instant Pot® pulls double duty here, both cooking the squash and making the soup. All you need to do between steps is to remove the steamer insert and squash, then dump out the remaining water. No need for cleaning along the way, since the squash that just came out is going right back in.

[This recipe, of course, can be made on the stovetop as well; the spaghetti squash can either be roasted or microwaved beforehand (fire up the Internet Machine and ask the Google for advice on that). Once that’s done, you can pretty much follow the general directions under the “For the soup” section; allow about 30 minutes for simmering after all ingredients are added.]

As with many classic soups, recipes for this vary widely. While mine hews fairly closely to the down-the-middle basic version, I did add one exotic ingredient as a nod to the soup’s probable Spanish heritage: pimentón de la Vera, the Spanish smoked paprika whose mere scent sends me off dreaming Gallego dreams. If you want to keep it more anchored to the New World, you could sub chipotle chile powder, regular chile powder, or even a diced jalapeño or two. Look, some people put cayenne, cinnamon, and allspice(!) in this soup, so feel free to follow your tastebuds.

Sin fideo, incidentally, means “without fideo.”

Sopa de Fideo… sin fideo
(makes about 3.5 liters / 15 cups)

Spring onion, sometimes known as Mexican onion.

INGREDIENTS

1 spaghetti squash (approx. 3 lb. / 1½ kg.)
2 spring onions (or 5-6 scallions), sliced thin
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. / 30 ml olive oil
½ teaspoon / 1.5 g cumin
1 teaspoon / 1 g oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
½ tbsp. / 4 g pimentón de la Vera (or smoked paprika)
½ tbsp. / 9 g salt
1 can (28 oz. / 794 g) diced tomatoes
6 cups / 1½ liters vegetable broth
chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
slice of lime for garnish (optional)
thinly sliced radish for garnish (optional)
slice (or chunk) of avocado for garnish (optional)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

The Instant Pot® fits like a glove… if your hand is cylindrical and about seven inches deep. Or a spaghetti squash.

DIRECTIONS

For the spaghetti squash:

Take off store sticker, rinse squash and pat dry. Insert steamer trivet into Instant Pot® inner pot. Add 1 cup / 250 ml water. Place squash in Instant Pot®. Close and lock lid, making sure that release vent is set to “Sealing.” Press button for Bean/Chili (set pressure to “high”) and adjust timer to 18 minutes. When squash is finished, you can allow natural pressure release or use quick release; either works fine. Remove squash from pot, remove steamer insert, and discard steaming water when sufficiently cool. Cut squash in half, remove seeds and stringy debris. Scrape out “spaghetti” with fork, chop strands into short, fideo-like length (between an inch and 4 cm) and set aside in bowl.

All star alliums: garlic and spring onions prepare for what chef José Andrés calls “a dance” with olive oil.

For the soup:

Set Instant Pot® to “Sauté.” Add olive oil to inner pot insert and allow to warm, then add garlic and spring onions. Sweat the onions and garlic until soft, stirring occasionally, for maybe 4-5 minutes. [No big deal if they begin to brown, but don’t let them burn or stick to the pot.] Add spaghetti squash and spices, stir to mix. Add tomatoes (with juice) and vegetable broth (you can use the tomato can for measuring the broth if you wish; add two cans). Secure lid, making sure vent is set to “sealing.” Press the “Keep Warm/Cancel” button once to stop the sauté function. The press the “Soup” button, adjust pressure to “high” (if necessary) and time to 10 minutes. When soup is finished, either natural pressure release or quick release work fine. Adjust seasonings and ladle into bowls. Garnish with cilantro leaves and the optional avocado, radish, and lime.

Soupe de la Semaine: Bowl of Sunshine — Vegan Yellow Squash & Corn Soup [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Last night, I re-watched most of High Fidelity for millionth time. It’s one of those movies that resonates with my inner record geek and reminds me what, but for the grace of my bride, I might easily have become. In this scene, Jack Black starts his shift at Championship Vinyl by subjecting the rest of the store to the almost oppressively upbeat ’80s hit “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves. It got me to thinking: could I build a bowl of sunshine?

Short answer: yes.

A few days ago, I visited the “we’re selling this produce cheap” bin at the market and picked up half a dozen yellow squash — a kilo and a half — for 99¢. Coulda wound up in lasagna. Coulda wound up in cornbread. But I’ve been on a bit of a soup kick lately.

Yellow squash by themselves are not particularly assertive, taste-wise, so I knew they’d need a little help. A little spice. A little sweetness. And nothing that would detract from the yellow. The spice comes from white pepper and a jalapeño pepper (which is green, but tiny in volume compared to the rest of the soup). Coconut milk and corn provide the sweetness. And because my vegetable stock base is the colour of Vegemite™, the main bulk of liquid in the soup is water. For a moment, I considered making it a curry-based soup (the Flavor the Moments blog has an excellent vegan take on that here), but ultimately this recipe from the Love & Olive Oil blog resonated with me most.

Like many Instant Pot® recipes, this adapts easily to the stovetop; just add enough time to soften the squash. And boy freakin’ howdy, is this easy. The entire soup is made in the Instant Pot®, so no other pots and pans to clean up. [It’s even done in a single pot on the stovetop.] Prep is not at all demanding, because everything’s getting blitzed at the end (even the cook, should you so choose).

Unsquashed squash.

Vegan Bowl of Sunshine
(makes about 3.5 liters / 15 cups)

INGREDIENTS

6 yellow squash, roughly chopped (approx. 3 lb./ 1½ kg.)
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
10 oz. / 300 g frozen, fresh, or canned corn kernels (drained if using latter)
1 jalapeño pepper, minced (optional, but recommended)
2 teaspoons / 12 g sea salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups / 750 ml vegetable broth or water
1 can (13½ oz. / 400 ml) coconut milk (preferably the “fat” kind)
2 tbsp. / 30 ml olive (or neutral) oil for sweating veggies
1 teaspoon / 2½ g white pepper
2 tbsp. / 30 ml olive oil to finish (optional)
zest of one lemon (optional)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Sweating the small stuff.

DIRECTIONS

Chop onion and jalapeño and add them to the Instant Pot®’s inner cooking pot; set to “Sauté” function. Sweat the onions and pepper until somewhat softened, then add the chopped squash and continue to sauté for another three or four minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing adheres to the pot. Add salt, water (or stock), coconut milk, thyme sprigs, corn, and white pepper; stir together. Hit the red “Keep Warm/Cancel” button on the control panel.

Ready for pressure.

Cover pot and lock lid (making sure the vent is set to “Sealing”), select “Soup,” set pressure to “High,” and time to 15 minutes. When finished, you may allow pressure to release naturally before unlocking lid, or you can do a “quick release” by turning the vent to “Venting.” [Be careful not to steam your hand.]

Make me smooth, chef.

Remove thyme sprigs, add lemon zest if desired, then process soup with immersion blender or in batches with a blender/food processor. [If you’re using either of the latter, drape a towel over the input tube or lid to allow the steam to vent.] Stir and allow soup to sit for a couple of minutes before tasting and adjusting spices. [NOTE: The immersion blender won’t make the soup silky smooth, so if that is your aim, use a Vita-Mixer and strain through a china cap.

Ladle soup into bowls, drizzle in a teaspoon (5 ml) or so of olive oil if desired, then garnish with a few grains of black pepper and bit of chopped parsley, basil, chives, or green onion.

Soupe de la Semaine: Vegan Potato Pickle Pot [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Not the prettiest soup, but it has a great personality.

One happy consequence of my current sixty-day Facebook cleanse is that I am spending more time researching (and cooking) recipes of all sorts.

If ever there were a happier marriage between a vegetable and an herb than potato with dill, I don’t think I’ve found it. And while I’m sure some of you might respond reflexively with “Yeah, what about tomato and basil, smart guy,” I’ll meet your snark with the pedantic retort that the tomato is technically a fruit and move on. The Potato Pickle Pot moniker is a nod to the Afro-Caribbean soup/stew known as Pepper Pot, although this particular soup’s roots seem to be Polish, where it, like its African cousin, is often made with cheap cuts of meat and is known as Zupa Ogórkowa. [My rebranding it as Polish Peasant Potato Pickle Pot seemed to be dipping an already gilded lily into Belgian chocolate fondue, so I dialed it back.] Both soups historically depended on available ingredients (peasants, y’know, can’t be choosers), so you’re welcome to think of this more as a template than a recipe. I’m sure no gendarmes from the local potagerie will be dispatched if you sneak in a turnip, some carrots, a rutabaga, or even some cabbage.

Many non-vegan iterations contain butter, milk, and even sour cream, but I was committed to a vegan version, and much like Magda at the I Deliciate.com blog, I considered — and then rejected — adding cashew cream. The puréed taters bring a rustic silkiness to the broth on their own. As with yesterday’s “Sofrito” Soup recipe, I opted to employ my Instant Pot® as a time-saving device to soften the potatoes, but the recipe is easily transferable to the stovetop. Just follow the directions for sautéing the onion, garlic, and potato, then add the broth/almond milk combo and simmer it until the potatoes are fork-tender (as if ready to be mashed). I expect that would take about 40-ish minutes, depending on how small your potato chunks were cut.

Of all the versions of this soup I researched, the one to which I owe the greatest debt came from a fellow Canadian, the woman who ran the One Vivacious Vegan blog out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s little wonder she wanted a sturdy soup back in the fall of 2012; winters up there are doggone cold, and surprisingly long.

VEGAN POTATO PICKLE POT
Makes about 10 cups (about 2¼ liters)

INGREDIENTS

2 tbsp / 30ml olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds / 1.5 kg potatoes, scrubbed and diced, but not peeled
3 cups / 700ml vegetable stock
3 cups / 700ml unflavoured and unsweetened almond milk (soy milk or rice milk should also be fine)
⅔ cup / 7g chopped fresh dill (or 3-4 tbsp. / 9-12g dried), plus a few extra sprigs for a garnish
½ cup / 120ml pickle brine (straight from the jar)
½ cup / 30g nutritional yeast
1 cup / 170g chopped dill pickles
salt and pepper to taste (remember, the brine is salty, so add it AFTER, if necessary)

Halfway through, it’s really not a pretty sight.

DIRECTIONS [Instant Pot®]

Chop onion, garlic, and potatoes and put them in separate bowls. Add oil to inner cooking pot, and set the Instant Pot® to its “Sauté” function. Sweat the onions until somewhat softened, then add the garlic and continue to sauté for another two minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing adheres to the pot. Add chopped potatoes and continue to sauté for 3-5 more minutes, just to warm the potatoes a bit and get them interacting with the onion and garlic. Add stock, almond milk, and chopped dill; stir together. Hit the red “Keep Warm/Cancel” button on the control panel.

Cover pot and lock lid (making sure the vent is set to “Sealing”), select “Soup,” set pressure to “High,” and time to 20 minutes. When finished, you may allow pressure to release naturally before unlocking lid, or you can do a “quick release” by turning the vent to “Venting.”

Process soup with immersion blender or in batches in a blender/food processor. [If you’re using either of the latter, drape a towel over the input tube or lid to allow the steam to vent.] You can pureé all of the soup at this point, but I like to leave a few of the chunks of potato intact. Add nutritional yeast, pickle brine, and chopped pickles. Stir and allow soup to sit for a couple of minutes before tasting and adjusting spices. Depending on your taste, you might want to add a little more pickle brine or dill to the mix, along with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a sprig of chopped dill. A baguette would be nice with this, although prudence would mitigate; you’ll have had a full day’s worth of carbs in the soup.

Soupe de la Semaine: Coconut Tomato [Vegan]

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The turmeric makes it yellow.

The bride and I just got back from Paris, where we dined somewhat indiscriminately. Maybe that’s not the precise word, because we were pretty careful (bordering on obsessive) about choosing our restaurants. We certainly dined well, if perhaps excessively. But since the scale ticked a little higher upon our return, we decided to dial it back a bit.

February is normally one of our two vegetarian months per year (and not because it’s the shortest, since our other is October), but we’re kickstarting it off a few days early as part of our “Going Clean in ’18” campaign. I saw a version of this soup in Urvashi Pitre’s Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook, and it’s very close to this one, but I adjusted some of the portions because I love cilantro and ginger, and I’m not afraid of a little pepper. While she prepares it in an Instant Pot®, it works just fine as a stovetop recipe. It’s easy and delicious both ways.

Three quick notes: Should you be using fresh tomatoes, the immersion blender (or food processor) might not decimate all the seeds to your satisfaction. If you’re fussy about that, you could strain the soup (I didn’t). Second, this could easily be adapted for omnivores; some shrimp or cooked chicken (especially thighs) would make an excellent complement. Finally, this is pretty great served cold as well, just in case you want to make it in summer.

Coconut Tomato Soup
Makes about 8 cups (about 2 liters)

INGREDIENTS
3 lbs. / 1.5 kilos tomatoes, roughly chopped
(you can use canned if they are unseasoned)
1 red onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
1 chunk minced ginger (approx. 1 inch / 2.5cm) (approx 2.5g)
¾ cup / 15g chopped fresh cilantro
1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz. / 400ml) (I prefer the “fat”/”whole” variety)
1-2 teaspoons / 6-12g salt
¾ teaspoon / 1.5g ground white pepper (or cayenne pepper or Piment d’Espelette)
1 teaspoon / 3g ground turmeric
1 tablespoon / 22g agave syrup or honey (the latter is not vegan)

DIRECTIONS [Stovetop]

Chop tomatoes (unless using canned), dice onion. mince garlic, peel and grate ginger, wash and chop cilantro and add them all to soup pot. Add coconut milk, remaining spices, and agave syrup or honey.

Heat over medium heat until just about boiling, then back the heat off and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.

Process soup with immersion blender or in batches in a blender/food processor. [If you’re using either of the latter, drape a towel over the input tube or lid to allow the steam to vent, or you will Jackson Pollock your kitchen walls — and yourself — with hot soup.]

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a little extra chopped cilantro.

Before the magic of the immersion blender.

DIRECTIONS [Instant Pot®]

Chop tomatoes (unless using canned), dice onion. mince garlic, peel and grate ginger, wash and chop cilantro and add them all to inner cooking pot. Add coconut milk, remaining spices, and agave syrup or honey.

Lock lid (making sure the vent is set to “Sealing”), select “Manual,” set pressure to “High,” and time to 5 minutes. When finished, allow pressure to release naturally before unlocking lid.

Process soup with immersion blender or in batches in a blender/food processor. [If you’re using either of the latter, drape a towel over the input tube or lid to allow the steam to vent, or you will Jackson Pollock your kitchen walls — and yourself — with hot soup.]

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a little extra chopped cilantro.

Here Comes That Grain Again: Vegan Kamut® Bowl With Peppers, Greens, and Toum

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The bride’s keen on grain bowls lately, and I’m about 47.8% less enthusiastic about quinoa than she is, so I have been poking around for alternatives. While at the store, ostensibly to pick up some farro, I saw this thing in the grain section that looked like a sibling (of farro’s, not of mine): Kamut®. I had no idea what Kamut® was, but that didn’t stop me from bringing it home like a stray culinary puppy. Long story short, it’s a variety of wheat, whose journey out of Egypt was perhaps less tortuous than, but nearly as interesting as, the Jews’.

Allow me to quote from the trademark owner’s website:

    The story of KAMUT® Brand khorasan wheat began in 1949, when Earl Dedman, a US Airman stationed in Portugal, received some unusual looking grain from a friend who claimed to have taken it from a tomb in Egypt. More likely, the friend had purchased it from a street vendor in Cairo, Egypt with the story that it had come from an ancient Egyptian tomb. Earl sent thirty-six kernels of the wheat to his father, R. E. Dedman, a farmer near Fort Benton, Montana. Within six years, the elder Dedman had grown the small number of seeds into 1,500 bushels, calling it “King Tut’s Wheat.”

In 1977, it fell into the hands of Robert Quinn, who tried unsuccessfully to get the people who make Corn Nuts to manufacture a wheat version of the snack with this grain. But Quinn and his dad continued to grow it on his family farm, which went completely organic in 1989. The following year, the USDA recognized the grain as a protected variety officially named “QK-77,” and the Quinns registered Kamut® as a trademark to guarantee that the original grain would remain unmodified and always be grown organically. From there, it got licenced to dozens of producers and is used in products from cereal to pizza… to this grain bowl.

This recipe follows a general formula I’ve developed for grain bowls: grain, some roasted/pan-fried vegetables, an element to add at least a bit of crunch to the texture, wilted greens for a little bitterness, some salt, and an acid (tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar, or, in this case, toum) as a brightening agent. Please don’t shackle yourself to this recipe! It was created and modified on the fly, riffing on literally dozens of other options I sifted through from Pinterest pages and Google searches.

Instant veggie stock enhances the water.

A NOTE ON COOKING KAMUT®: A little searching on the Internets yielded some insight on how to cook it in an Instant Pot. Much like dried beans, the typical method for preparing Kamut® is to soak it overnight in water (or, in my case, vegetarian bouillon), but I didn’t have the time for that, and I — quite fortuituously — did have an Instant Pot. Much thanks to cookbook author Kathy Hester, whose The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot: 80 Easy and Delicious Plant-Based Recipes That You Can Make in Half the Time yielded the info that if you press the “Adjust” button once after having set the Instant Pot up on the “Multigrain” cycle, “it will look like it’s going to cook for a normal 60 minutes. But on this setting — only on the multigrain 60-minute cycle — the grain first gets a 45-minute warm water soaking before the 60 minutes pressure cooking time. It’s great for Kamut® and other long-cooking grains.” If you don’t have one of these marvelous devices, you can just soak the grain overnight and prepare it according to the directions on the package. That method works just fine, even if it’s a little (well, a lot) longer. [Reminder from Russ Parsons, former LA Times food editor: “Rinse thoroughly. I mean thoroughly. In a strainer under running water.”]

One cup of dry Kamut® looks like this when cooked.

A NOTE ABOUT TOUM: Toum is a garlic-based Lebanese dipping sauce not far removed from aioli or the Ligurian agliata. The best recipe for it that I’ve found is at the Tori’s Kitchen website (she even thoughtfully includes step-by-step photography). If I deviate from her recipe at all, it’s usually to add more garlic, the cowbell of the pantry. There’s just never enough. When you’re making it, be sure your water and lemon juice are really cold, or the sauce might break up. But it’s super tasty, simple to make, and you will discover a million applications for it, from grilled veggie sandwiches to tater tots to pasta.

A Cuisinart full of toum.

Vegan Kamut® Bowl With Peppers, Greens, and Toum

INGREDIENTS:

For the grain:
1 cup / 225g dried Kamut® khorasam wheat
3 cups / 700ml water
1 tbsp. / 15ml Better Than Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base (or other vegan bouillon cube)

For the bowl:
2 cups / 325gm cooked Kamut® khorasam wheat
12 baby bell peppers or 2 medium sized regular bell peppers (red/orange/yellow, chopped)
1/2 onion, finely diced
5 oz. / 1 cup / 150g cashews, preferably roasted and salted
sea salt to taste
5 oz. / 140g coarsely chopped greens (this time it was kale, baby spinach, and arugula)
2 tbsp. / 30ml olive oil

For the toum:
3 1/2 – 4 cups / 700ml sunflower or canola oil, chilled
1/2 cup / 70g / about 1 head peeled garlic cloves
1/2 cup / 120ml lemon juice, divided
1/2 cup / 120ml ice cold water, divided
1 3/4 / 10g tsp salt (preferably Kosher salt, fleur de sel, or sea salt)

I was generous with the toum.

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cook Kamut® according to instructions (see A NOTE ON COOKING KAMUT®, above). Set aside.

Make toum according to instructions (see link in A NOTE ABOUT TOUM, above). Set aside.

Chop onion and bell peppers, place in bowl, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large pan on high heat until just about smoking. Add cooked Kamut® and toast, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes or until slightly browned. Lower heat to medium and stir in onion and peppers. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until veggies have softened, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, wash and chop greens. When vegetables have softened, add chopped greens and stir until wilted. Add cashews, stir, and salt to taste. Top with toum and serve. Serves 2-3 as main or 4-6 as side dish.

Back to the Present — A Birthday Carrot Cake

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A million years ago, when I was in high school, I used to make carrot cakes and zucchini bread all the time. It was the Seventies, and one simple way to gain hippie cred as a baker (not to mention impress the opposite sex) was to reproduce these down-to-earth desserts whose defining ingredients are, somewhat counterintuitively, vegetables. Most of the carrot cakes I’ve ever consumed have been pretty decent, so I’ve long inferred that it’s not exactly rocket surgery to make one. It seems, though, that the cake can veer off a fairly forgiving path at one of two main forks: 1) it can be too dry; and 2) the frosting can be too sweet.

Overcoming the dry part is easy. Make sure you have enough liquid, and don’t overbake the cake. Duh. The frosting is a bit trickier, but not much, really. Have a care when adding sugar, and taste it along the way. A little lemon juice can ameliorate a heavy hand with the sweetener, but it’s better to get it right on the first go.

This past weekend, one of my high school pals was celebrating her 60th birthday, and I volunteered to make her a pair of birthday desserts. One was the internationally famous Tarta de Santiago (although I chose not to adorn it with the St. James cross stencil). The other was the old standby carrot cake, the likes of which I had pumped out with some regularity when I was far more hirsute and far less corpulent. Back in the Internets-free day, I relied upon a recipe from Joy of Cooking, or maybe the Betty Crocker cookbook that my mom gave me when I moved out. While Betty Crocker’s tome has long since disappeared, some edition of Joy of Cooking is usually close to hand, and I suppose I could have gone back to that, but I wondered if, in the last 40-ish years, there might have been another, more captivating recipe turned loose on the public.

Dorie Greenspan is a brilliant writer, an excellent cook, and a lovely person, so when I saw her recipe, I knew I had a foundation from which I could work. To be sure, the muscle memory of having made dozens and dozens of carrot cakes had not been entirely lost, but I wanted a starting point. The roadmap I ultimately followed deviated from hers but slightly; I used gluten-free flour because one of the dinner guests expressed a preference. To my delight, the flour didn’t diminish the cake’s moist finish. And while Dorie’s recipe (and, in fact, many other recipes) called for 1.5 cups of oil, I used a combination of olive oil and buttermilk to give the finished product a bit more tang. Olea Farm’s Lemon Blush olive oil is a house favourite; it’s a blend of EVOO and oil from lemon zest. [You should check out all their infused oils.]

Also, Dorie’s cake is a multi-tiered affair, but I opted for the simpler single-layer cake of my youth. You have to cook it a fair amount longer, but it’s pretty forgiving. Don’t stress.

Because my friend is a big fan of peacock feathers, I topped the cake with a sheet of printed icing in addition to the cream cheese frosting. It seemed to be a hit, and it didn’t detract from the flavour of the cream cheese frosting, so rock on. It’s a bit on the pricey side, so you can feel free to omit this step, but it looked really cool.

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
2 cups/240g Bob’s Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour
2 teaspoons/10g baking powder
2 teaspoons/14g baking soda
2 teaspoons/12g ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon/4.25g salt
3 cups/150g grated carrots (you can grate the carrots with a box grater, in a food processor fitted with a shredding blade, or just be lazy and buy them pre-shredded, as I did this time)
1 cup/125g coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
½ cup/75g moist, plump golden raisins (or dark)
12 oz./340g/1.5 cups sugar (I used turbinado)
1 cup/250ml Olea Farm Lemon Blush olive oil
½ cup/125ml buttermilk
4 large eggs

Frosting:
8 oz./225g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick/8 tablespoons/113g unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ pound/350g (2¾ cups) confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon/15ml lemon juice
1½ tablespoon/25ml vanilla extract
1 or 2 peacock feather frosting sheets, optional

PREPARATION

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 10-inch by 14-inch by 2-inch cake pan; flour the insides and tap out the excess if you plan on serving the cake on a platter rather than from the pan.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.

In a third bowl, combine and beat the sugar and oil until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. If you are working with a mixer, reduce the speed to low; if you’re working by hand, switch to a large rubber spatula, and gently stir in the flour mixture — mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Then gently mix in the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.

Slide the pan into the oven. Bake the cake for 60 to 75 minutes, rotating the pan front to back at the midway point. The cake is ready when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean; the cake should just have started to pull away from the edges of the pan. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack, cool for 10-15 minutes. If serving on a platter, turn out onto rack to cool to room temperature. (At this point, the cake can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; thaw before frosting.)

For the frosting: Working with an electric hand mixer, beat the room-temperature cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth.

Frost the cake. Should you decide to use the peacock frosting sheets, follow the instructions in their packaging. [Basically, you lift the printed frosting sheet(s) off a non-stick page and place it/them on the cake.] Pop it all into the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so to give the icing a chance to set.

Serve to your delighted guests. Or hog it all to yourself, no matter to me. But be aware: due to the oil, buttermilk, cream cheese, butter, sugar, et al, it’s got a fairly robust caloric count, so this should be an occasional treat, not a standby for the weekly dinner menu.

Enter The Octagon. Salad, that is.

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This is going to be a little frustrating for those of you who need precise measurements or who aren’t comfortable grilling a steak. I’m just warning you up front, so you won’t be disappointed and won’t waste your time. That said, if you are agreeable to a bit of improv, you’ll be rewarded with a tasty, carnivore-pleasing meal. It’s called the Octagon Salad, not in homage to the ridiculous 1980 film starring the ridiculous Chuck Norris, but because it has eight elements, to wit:

    INGREDIENTS
    Mixed Greens
    Grilled Steak, cut in strips [Chicken or Pork may be substituted if desired]
    Corn (fresh, canned, or frozen)
    Tomatoes (cherry or grape; chopped sun-dried tomatoes can be substituted)
    Marinated Bell Peppers (1 jar usually does it for me)
    Cashews (preferably roasted and salted)
    Tortilla Strips*
    Cilantro-Pepita Caesar Dressing
    Finishing salt

The beauty part of this salad is that, apart from the steak and the tortilla strips, it can all be assembled from pre-packaged ingredients; cherry or grape tomatoes work particularly well in that regard (you can slice them in half if you feel the need). It’s also a terrific way to use up leftover grilled meats, should you have some. While I’ve tried making this with store-bought rotisserie chicken, the texture just doesn’t work, so I advise against it. I haven’t yet tried it with grilled sausage, but I’m sceptical as to whether it would work… maybe an herbed chicken sausage could be acceptable. Or maybe not. [If you find one that fits, please let me know!]

As for the cilantro-pepita dressing, if you happen to live in California (as I do), it’s a pretty good bet that one of your local supermercados carries the El Torito brand, which is right tasty, if somewhat expensive. If you are feeling more adventurous, or are just plain thriftier, copycat recipes for a DIY version can be found here and here.

The steak, corn, tomatoes, and marinated bell peppers can be combined with the dressing ahead of time, and if you have more than one evening’s worth of those ingredients, they may be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. Don’t add the cashews or the tortilla strips until the very end, or they’ll lose their crunch (part of this salad’s attraction is its variety of textures). It is best served al fresco with a white wine (Sancerre, Albariño, and Moschofilero all work well) or a rosé (even sparkling!), but if you are watching calories, some lemon and cucumber spa water is an excellent substitute.

Be sure to sprinkle a tiny bit of coarse finishing salt over each individual plate immediately before serving. This is a place where a little Pink Himalayan salt or black “lava” salt (which is just salt mixed with charcoal, incidentally) can add some visual interest. I have a bunch of different salts from all over the world for just this purpose. Trust me, your guests will feel special when you tell them that you had your grey sea salt shipped in from the Guerande Salt Ponds on the Breton coast. Or they may just consider you a dimwitted gasbag easily fished in by the latest culinary fad. But either way, it will be entertaining for them, and that’s the point.

And yes, I realize that the finishing salt brings the ingredient total up to nine. But who would want to eat a nonagon salad?

*The way to get the tortilla strips done as in the photo is to purchase a package of taco-sized corn or flour tortillas (spinach- or tomato-enhanced tortillas add an extra colourful dimension), cut them into quarters, stack the quarter-rounds and slice off 1/4″ (6mm) strips. Heat up about 1/2″ (13mm) of canola or other high-smoke-point oil in a frying pan, and dump in the strips, stirring until browned. Remove strips from frying pan with slotted spatula and cool on paper towels. If you have extra, pop them in a Ziploc bag and save for later; they should be fine for at least a week, but they never seem to last that long.