Vegan Cheese: You have to make it.

We have been fermenting cashews to make vegan spreads. They are so good, we’ve set aside a corner of a cupboard to have a constant small batch going. Also, the rejuvelac (the liquid you culture the cashews with) is good to drink.

It’s very easy, mostly involves leaving things to sit in the dark for a couple of days.
The process is really simple. First, you make the rejuvelac from grains. We’ve been using Quinoa, but the book we are using says that any grain works. After soaking them for a 1/2 a day, you leave them moist until they start sprouting, rinsing them and checking them every dau. Then you put them in water for a couple of days, somewhere not too bright and at least at room temperature, until the liquid turns cloudy and sour. When you’ve seived out the sprouted grains, you have rejuvelac.

You soak the cashews until they are soft (about half a day), and then blend them thoroughly, adding a bunch of rejuvelac. We’ve been experiementing with different amounts, but it seems that the less rejuvelac you add, the firmer the cheese becomes. A good blender is key – getting the cashews as finely ground as possible not only makes the cheese feel better but also increases the uniformity and speed of the aging. Put the cashews back in the not-bright-not-too-cold-space for a couple of days and it’s ready to eat. However, it becomes >much< better after you add nutritional yeast and salt – lots of both.

So, this is pretty awesome as it is, but we’ve tried a couple more involved recipes since that are EVEN BETTER.

Marinated Breakfast Tempeh

Mornings, and breakfast, is always hurried. What to do? We’ve pretty much settled on a daily staple of this marinated tempeh recipe and Sauteed Brussel Sprouts (coming up).

A couple of times a week, I chop up a couple of Trader Joe’s Tempeh packages, and when morning comes, I just heat up a frying pan, dump them in, and start getting the coffee ready :)

Makes 4-6 portions.

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Zatar & pomegranite seitan

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Vegan in China

So one of the reasons I haven’t been posting much (or at all this year) is that I’ve been doing a lot of travelling for work to China. I’ll admit, I was worried when I first started, as the Chinese are kind of known for their love of meat. Meat is in everything here; seasonings, sauces, broths, vegetable dishes, you name it, it’s probably got meat or meat product in it. However, I’ve learned a few tricks on how to maintain a vegan lifestyle here. It’s not impossible, but it will take some adjustments.

When out on your own, try to find Indian restaurants. Most of the food at an Indian restaurant is not only vegetarian but vegan as well. Most restaurants have at least one (or usually more than one) person who speaks a little English. Just be patient (as they would be with you were you speaking Mandarin) and keep trying to explain. In a pinch, Chana Masala is usually a safe bet, and loaded with protein.

Breakfasts are surprisingly easy. Although the buffets are usually loaded with sausages, bacon, and eggs, most also feature baked beans, which are vegan (outside of America, where they love to stick pork in them). That, in addition to a cup of fresh soy milk, can serve as an excellent source of protein to get you started. And many Chinese breakfasts involve some sort of steamed or sauteed green vegetable, which I wish more American breakfasts featured. It might be hard to get used to, but it’s a great way to get in your vitamins early in the day.

Talk to your hosts. The Chinese hosts I have started off feeding me KFC, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut. I asked them why and they said because they thought that was what would make me most comfortable, as a westerner. So I let them know that even though I’m from America, I don’t eat meat or meat products. I prefer vegetables, but no meat broth, no meat sauces, nothing containing animal product. And what did I get? Now I am taken to neat off-the-radar Cantonese and Shanghainese restaurants, my hosts order for me and tell me not only which dishes are OK for my choice, but also how it is prepared. They know that as long as meat products aren’t involved, I’m quite adventurous (which you will see later), so that has proven to be fun. The Chinese like to impress by ordering many different meals, the idea being that with a balance of different flavors and tastes, one leaves feeling more satisfied. There’s also the notion of abundance, but I like the former explanation better. It allows me to have a huge variety of food without over indulging.

Find the vegetarian restaurants. They exist. They’re usually termed “Healthy” or “Organic” or even “Buddhist” (which is very strict; not only vegan, but often low in seasonings in general). I have found fantastic food at these places; some fake meats, which I never get tired of due to their comically inventive nature, and some unusual vegetable or noodle dishes. A word to the wise vegan: Almost all noodle dishes and soups in China feature a meat broth or are cooked with meat. It is essential to ask before tasting. I have not yet found a noodle dish outside of a vegetarian-only restaurant that was not cooked with meat. But, like I said before I’ve found some incredible dishes at these vegetarian restaurants. Here’s a few to get you started:

Dao Shao Mein

This first dish is Dao Shao Mein. The name comes from how the noodles are made; it’s a big block of pasta and the cook shaves it off with a knife into ribbons. This was the first noodle dish I’ve been able to eat here in China, and it was magnificent. I know that looks like egg in there; it’s not. I asked my hosts to ask the Chef to put fake meat in there for me, and the restaurant happily obliged. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, my friends.

Fan Xia

This is Fan Xia, a tomato soup where a peeled and cored-out whole tomato is poached in tomato soup (that tasted remarkably like Campbell’s tomato soup!). The tomato has been stuffed with white beans and corn. It is simple, incredibly satisfying, and absolutely delicious. The non-vegetarian version has Abalone or some sort of mollusk inside; I much preferred this one. I can’t wait to make it for my mother-in-law, who I think will find this fascinating.

Tree Bark Bacteria

OK this is easily the strangest and most adventurous thing I have ever eaten. It’s a lichen or fungus of some sort, lightly cooked (I don’t know how) and tossed with sesame oil and chili oil, then with coriander and peanuts. Admittingly, it is delicious. Kind of chewy like mushrooms, but textured. It looks so weird, and the translator’s poor choice of the word “bacteria” meant that I just could not get past the mental reference. But it didn’t kill me, it didn’t make me sick, and it was a really interesting experience. See, you can try new things when vegan! Weird Chinese food is not just for meat-eaters alone!

This was just a start, but I wanted to post to let you vegans out there know that China is not off-limits just because the majority of the population is meat-loving. You just have to do what you do in the US: be aware of what you’re eating, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

 

Eggplasagna

I don’t know about you all, but over the holidays I indulged. I indulged in wine, beer, mai tais and rum. I also indulged in bread, fried things, vegan processed “meats” and sugar. All of which means that I gained a few pounds. Did you know that being vegan doesnt’ necessarily translate to being thin? There’s tons of unhealthy vegan foods out there. Don’t believe me? Look up the ingredients of Nutter Butters.

Carbs aren’t by nature “bad for you”. They’re an energy source. Like my in-laws, some people can consume vast amounts of rice, bread, and potatoes at the dinner table because they have this amazing metabolism, or they work out so much that they actually use these wonderful grains and sugars for energy. I don’t. I come from bread-basket Ukrainian peasant stock. The kind that didn’t die during the famines because their bodies held onto fat so much better than all those skinny dead kids. Plus, I don’t work out like Lance Armstrong, because I have a day job. So while carbs in and of themselves aren’t bad for you, they are weight-gain triggers for people like me that spend most of their day sitting in front of a computer and not walking around in the fields.

Anyway. Seeing as how The Eating Season is done, it’s time to cut the carbs (my primary weight gaining device), reduce the sugars (my other weight gaining device) and lay off the booze. Tonight I whipped up a nice big “Eggplasagna”…with no cheese, no dairy, no pasta, no gluten, and very low carb. Fortunately, it’s all flavor, sausage-y and onion-y and full of yum. Just try to keep your portions under control…just because it’s low carb doesn’t mean it’s low calorie.

This recipe is divvied up into segments, with the last being the steps of layering that I used. Photo to come.

Part 1: The “ricotta”

Ingredients

1 brick of firm tofu, pressed between dishtowels to absorb excess water, and crumbled into a bowl

2 heads of garlic, tops cut off and roasted in olive oil at 400 until soft and caramel-colored on the edges

1 tbsp each of dried basil, dried oregano and dried thyme

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Juice from one lemon

Method

Combine all in a food processer (or in a bowl, using two forks). Set aside.

 

Part 2: The “pasta”

Ingredients

1/2 a large eggplant, sliced thin (1/8″ thick at the most, but try for 1/16″)

sea salt

Method

Sprinkle sea salt on eggplant to “sweat it”. Lay it flat or at an angle in a shallow dish. Just before you start The Layering, drain off the “sweat” that has formed. Don’t rinse the eggplant!!!

 

Part 3: The “sausage”

Ingredients

1 packet of tempeh (I like flax tempeh, but it really doesn’t matter what kind you choose. Just make sure it’s at least 8 oz).

2 tsp each of dried basil, dried fennel seed, dried thyme

a pinch of cayenne pepper

a dash of brown sugar

3 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari, if you need this to be gluten-free safe for Celiac’s diseased eaters)

juice from one lemon

2 tbsp olive oil

a dash of liquid smoke

Method

Crumble the tempeh in a sauce pan. Fill with water until it covers the tempeh. Heat until boiling, then let it boil fo 12 minutes. Drain the water, then add the rest of the ingredients and head on medium – high. Stir frequently until the mixture is slightly browned. Set aside.


Part 4: The onions

Ingredients

2 large red onions, cut in half then sliced into thin half-moons

olive oil

a dash of brown sugar

Method

Heat the onions in olive oil (enough so that they get coated with the oil, doesn’t have to be a lot) until they start a quiet bubbling. Turn down the heat to low and let them cook until they get to a reddish brown mushy color / texture. Set aside.

 

Part 4: The “others”

Ingredients

1 cup sliced firm crimini or button mushrooms

a handful of spinach leaves, destemmed

1 jar of tomato sauce (I love the Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro tomato sauces)


Part 5: The Layering

Ordered from Bottom layer to Top layer. Start with:

1/3 of the tomato sauce

one layer of sliced eggplant

a layer of spinach leaves, raw

a layer of mushroom slices, raw

1/2 the “ricotta” crumbles

1/3 of the tomato sauce

the remaining sliced eggplant

tempeh sausage (all of it)

carmelized red onions (all of them)

the remaining “ricotta” crumbles

the remaining tomato sauce
Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes with aluminum foil covering your pan. Take off the foil, sprinkle on some Daiya Mozzerella shredded “cheese” if you like, and bake until it’s melted.


Vizza (aka Vegan Pizza), Take One: Hawaiian Pizza

No, vegans, you do not have to give up pizza. Your more socially conscious / healthy / kinder choice doesn’t include dairy but it does include pizza so good that you’ll be snacking along, only to find in the morning that you did, in fact, eat an entire pizza all by yourself. And you’re not ashamed. Because it was so good you’d do it again just to prove a point.

Jon and I make quite a lot of varieties of vegan pizza; so much in fact that we’ve toyed with the idea of opening a vegan gourmet pizza parlor named “Vizza”, where only the best wine would be paired with gourmet pizza strips, and we wouldn’t even need to advertise it as vegan because we’d be so pretentious and smug about the restaurant identity design and ingredients that hipsters would line up outside our door for blocks on end.

Anyway. This is one of many vegan pizza recipes I plan to post, the vegan take on a Hawaiian pizza (we’re headed to Hawaii in a week or so, so my brain is kind of focused on that right now). ┬áNote: we usually use yeast in the dough, but forgot to add it this time. It turned out great anyway, so don’t worry if your brain is mush at the end of the day and you totally space on that. Just smile and act like it was all part of your Master Plan and no one will know.

Ingredients:

Grapeseed or Safflower oil as needed

Homemade bread dough (we use the recipe from our bread machine, and mix it in it)

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 small can tomato paste

a handful of pineapple chunks

1/3 package of Yves Vegan Canadian Bacon, cut into 1/2″ squares

2 handfuls of maitake mushrooms, chopped

2 small (or one large) red onions, peeled and sliced into half-moon strips

Olive oil as needed

a large pinch of fresh, chopped cilantro (feel free to omit if you think it tastes like soap)

shredded daiya mozzerella cheese OR shredded “Sheese” mozzerella cheese

 

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 350. Oil your pizza stone (I don’t know how to make pizza without one of these. They’re a great investment. Get one.) with a high-heat oil like grapeseed oil or safflower oil. NOT olive oil, as it will burn in the oven and ruin the taste of your pizza.

2. Carmelize the red onions by cooking them in a sauce pan with olive oil. Start off on medium heat, then lower the heat to medium / low and let them cook until they turn a yummy brown slightly-crispety color. Set aside.

3. Saute the mushrooms and Yves Canadian Bacon in that same pan until the bacon is browned a bit and the mushrooms get soft. Set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, mix together the tomatoes and tomato paste.

5. Roll out your dough onto a pizza stone. I like square pizzas, but I’m weird that way. Spread with a spoon the tomato sauce mixture onto the dough. Make sure to only spread it thinly – too much sauce and the dough will get super soggy. Sprinkle on top the mushrooms, onions and canadian bacon. Grate the cheese (or sprinkle it if it’s already grated) on the pizza. The trick with vegan cheese is don’t use too much. You should be able to see the toppings a bit. Top with a few pineapple chunks – again, not too many or it’ll make the center of the pizza soggy. Top with a bit of cilantro, if you like that.

6. Bake the pizza for around 15 – 25 minutes. You’ll have to watch it and pay attention – when the edges of the dough are no longer soft and it has a slight brown texture (or if the cheese is starting to brown), take it out. Let it cool for a few minutes and eat it. But not the whole thing. I’ve made that mistake too many times…and probably will again.

 

Hot & Sour Soup, vegan-style

Vegan Hot & Sour Soup

Last night I might have had a few too many drinks. OK, I know I had a few too many drinks. This was made clear to me when I woke up this morning with a rockin’ headache and a bit of a hangover. Enter hot and sour soup, my salty-soury-rehydrating hangover cure.

I’m going to add a few things in here that I didn’t put in the soup this time because next time I make this I definitely will put them in. I think this soup will be just the thing to say tsai chien (goodbye) to this wretched hangover, and hopefully I’ll make better choices in the future. But I doubt it.

Ingredients:

8 cups of water or vegetable broth (I used vegan chicken stock)

3/4 cup tamari

3 tbsp soy sauce

1/4 cup ponzu sauce

1/2 cup white vinegar

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

1 tsp ground white peppercorns

1 small yellow onion, diced

peanut oil

3 tbsp sesame oil

1 fist-sized amount of yuba, sliced into ribbons

1/2 block of extra firm tofu, cubed or sliced into thick ribbons

1 tbsp chili oil

2 tsp chili paste

fresh japanese ramen noodles

1 cup chopped green onions

1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed

1 12-oz can of chinese mushrooms, drained and rinsed OR 1-2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

2 cups of seitan, ripped into chunks

 

Method:

1. Saute the onion in peanut oil until browned. Add to a soup pot.

2. Add to the soup pot: water / broth, soy sauce, tamari, ponzu sauce, vinegar, rice wine vinegar, peppercorns, sesame oil, chili oil, chili paste and green onions. Stir well and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, then add noodles.

3. Add tofu, yuba, water chestnuts, mushrooms, and seitan. Turn the heat down to low so the soup can simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes (or more if you like), dive in and make better choices next time around in regards to drinking habits.

 

Wings of Seitan (aka Seitan’s Balls)

Seitan's Balls

(photo courtesy of Jess Judge – thanks Jess!)

For many Americans, Superbowl Sunday (and other football-ey type of social gatherings) is a tradition of food. Namely, chicken wings. For my Dad, it’s about blue cheese and sour cream dip for rippled potato chips. It’s a staple, and it just wouldn’t feel like the Superbowl without it. Going vegan has strained me in these types of situations. On the one hand, I really want to enjoy the fun social aspect as much as anyone, but on the other hand (and I freely admit this) I miss the traditions I’ve grown up with.

So once again, I took the bull by the horns and whipped up some vegan-friendly appetisers that not only have quelled my cravings for That Which I Choose Not To Eat Anymore, but as of a few weekends ago won the admiration and respect of some of my most meat-happy friends. They gobbled these up faster than I could say “Wait, that’s not meat!”. I quickly had a photo snapped before the entire dish was gone, so you’ll have to forgive the fact that it’s not as styled as I’d prefer. Next time I’m bringing out the camera before I present the meal.

I recommend these hot “wings”, or “Wings of Satan Seitan”, or if you’re more vulgar than that, “Satan’s Seitan’s Balls” for all those social food gatherings where you find yourself questioning your commitment to animal kindness, or if you’re just in the mood for spicy protein and blue cheese. And, it’s meat-eater tested and approved, so you can’t go wrong there. Unless you encounter my Catholic mother who is mortified that I’d cook with something that is a homophone for the Devil Himself.

Hail Seitan, y’all. And his tasty balls.

Ingredients (“Wings”):

One batch of homemade seitan (I think it comes out to about 6 cups worth or something. We use “Vegan With a Vengeance“‘s seitan recipe)

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup soy milk / almond milk (plain, unsweetened)

3 tbsp spicy brown mustard

1 + 1/2 tsp garlic powder

4 + 1 tbsp nutritional yeast

2 tbsp + 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp paprika

3 tsp baking powder

Peanut oil (about 1/2 – 3/4 cup)

Hot sauce (I recommend Louisiana-style hot sauces like Red Rooster. I do NOT recommend Tapatio or, heaven forbid, Tabasco. Blech.)

 

Ingredients (Blue “cheese” dressing):

6-8 oz plain soy yogurt. No substitutions.

1 cup veganaisse (other brands are OK to substitute)

1-2 tsp garlic powder (omit if you substituted Wildwood Aoili for veganaisse)

1/2 tsp agave nectar

1/4 tsp salt

8 oz blue “Sheese“, grated. This is not substitutable; there is no other brand I’ve tried that works like this one does.

 

Method:

1. Mix your blue “cheese” ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with tin foil (did you know this is recyclable, unlike plastic wrap? Now you do) and refrigerate for 1 – 2 ┬áhours. This allows the seasonings / flavors to meld together well.

2. Mix your “wet mix” together in a medium-sized bowl: water, non-dairy milk, mustard, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 2 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp nutritional yeast. Set aside.

3. Mix your “dry mix” together in another medium-sized bowl: 1 1/4 cups flour, salt, pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder, 4 tbsp nutritional yeast, paprika, baking powder.

4. Cut the seitan into wing-sized chunks. Or, rip them into ping-pong ball-sized lumps. Whatever suits your fancy.

5. Pour peanut oil into your cast-iron skillet (Did you know you can get more iron out of your food by cooking with a cast-iron skillet? Which is a vital mineral that many vegans don’t have enough of? Now you do) about 1/4 inch deep. Heat on high.

6. Coat each piece of seitan in the wet mix, then roll in the dry mix and add to the frying pan. Fry those puppies until lightly browned on each side, then let them cool on a folded cloth or paper towel.

7. Preheat your oven to 300. Place the cooled seitan wings into a large baking dish and smother in hot sauce. Toss gently so that the hot sauce coats the seitan evenly.

8. Bake those bad boys for 5 – 10 minutes. If they’re ball-sized, put a toothpick in each one and serve along side the blue “cheese” dressing. Get one quick before they’re served, or you may never get the chance to taste them.

 

 

Heirloominestrone

Last year was a bad year for tomatoes here in Northern California. Cold temps and lots of wind kept them from doing well, so I was thrilled when early this spring we got a a ton of rain. Followed by the sunniest summer I’ve seen here in a while. What does that mean to your normal not-weather-obsessed person?

Heirloom tomatoes. For $1.25 a pound.

 

We picked up our first haul today from the Alemany Farmer’s Market and tonight I’m making minestrone. With heirloom tomatoes. My kitchen smells so amazing right now, I decided to pass some kitchen waiting time by posting the recipe. It tastes fine with normal tomatoes, but then you can’t call it Heirloominestrone, and where’s the fun in that?

Ingredients:

6 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as you can
6 scallions, chopped fine
2 zucchini or cousa, chopped
cooking sherry
5 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped (I prefer Yellowgold, light green, orange and yellow/red-colored because they give the soup a warm orangey color instead of red)
8 cups water boiled, then 1/2 cup vegan chicken broth whisked in
1 8oz can tomato paste
2 cups cooked cranberry (berlotti) beans (ironically I have the heirloom variety of these too)
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbsp dried basil
2 bay leaves
Pepper ground to taste

Method:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large stainless steel soup pot. Saute on medium heat the red onions until just softened, then add 1/3 cup cooking sherry. Add garlic slices and reduce down until just starting to brown.
2. Add scallions and zucchini, saute until the zucchini are soft.
3. Add tomatoes, stir and add 1/3 cup sherry. Stir well, cook on medium heat until the tomatoes soften.
4. Whisk the tomato paste into the vegan broth. Add to the soup pot, along with the herbs. Cook for 15 minutes, add beans. Cook another 15 minutes.

I served this with toasted olive bread and earth balance. A perfect summer dinner. I’ll post the photo later.

Fastest dinner in the west

I usually post recipes here that either take a bit of time (but are worth it!) or are a bit more on the fancy-pants side. However. Sometimes, you just don’t have time for that kind of cooking. Sometimes, you drive an hour-long commute, work a very long day, go to a 1 1/2 hour vinyasa yoga practice during which the yoga instructor tells you repeatedly that You Can Do This despite your tears of frustration in not being able to balance your entire body prone on your elbows while breathing in a slow, relaxed manner, and drive another hour to get back home.

For those times (and others like them), you just need something fast and you need it to be delicious such as to make up for that hour and a half of balancing-induced frustration.

Enter the Fastest Dinner in the West: Stir-fried seitan with pasta sauce.

It’s fast. It’s delicious. It’s low-carb, high-protein, and can kill your ravenous hunger in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. It could be gluten-free if you use tempeh instead of seitan. Which means it might be the most Perfect Meal Ever. I apologize that I don’t have a photo. There was no time to take one, as I had scarfed up the meal in about 30 seconds. Here it is:

Ingredients:
One package of seitan strips (you can get these at Whole Foods)
One jar of your favorite pasta sauce (mine is this porcini mushroom pasta sauce from Napa Valley. It’s drool-icious.)
a bit of extra virgin olive oil

Method:
1. Saute the seitan strips in olive oil on medium heat until they get a little browned / crispety.

2. Add just enough sauce to coat the seitan strips. Mix well.

3. Place in a bowl, make a fist with your right hand and point out your thumb and first finger, making the shape of a gun. Blow on the barrel of your gun, kid. You’ve just made the Fastest Dinner in the West.