Vegan in Florence, Part 3

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Well, dear readers, my adventures in Florence, Italy have come to a close, but I still have one more round of vegan Italian cuisine to share with you all. The last few days of my trip included day trips to the nearby towns of Siena and Fiesole, both of which boast magnificent churches and stunning views of the Italian countryside; a dinner party with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin; and a theater jaunt to see the previously on-Broadway show Stomp. And of course…tons of tasty vegan noms. Here are a couple culinary highlights from my final days in Florence:

Il Vegetariano

Via delle Ruote 30r, Florence, Italy 50129

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

I first discovered this 30-some-year-old staple of Florence’s vegetarian scene three years ago when I spent the summer with my aunt, and eagerly returned to introduce this popular, all-organic eatery to my travel companion Gabe. Luckily, from that summer I gleaned the experiential know-how about how Il Vegetariano works, so that I could lead Gabe along in the process. You see, Il Vegetariano’s set-up differs from that of a traditional sit-down restaurant, functioning in a more cafeteria-style manner. Upon entering the restaurant, the diner proceeds past the two dining rooms to greet the kind bespectacled man behind the ordering counter, seated beside a colorful blackboard that lists the daily-rotating menu of small plates, salad bar, entrees, and desserts. The diner puts their order in at the counter, pays, picks up a tray, and stands in the line in front of the salad bar/dessert counter to wait for another kind balding man to grab a freshly made plate from the kitchen, and/or to choose from an array of raw and cooked vegetables to enjoy in a salad. Finally, the diner can choose a seat in one of two mahogany-clad dining rooms with exposed brick walls, or on a covered patio just behind the restaurant.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

During our visit, Gabe and I opted to enjoy the warm weather and took a seat on the patio. Peckish after meandering around the city all morning, we dove into our bowls of immensely savory brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes, cauliflower, and parsley. Herbaceous and full-bodied, the pilaf’s flavor showcased just how complex simple vegetables and grains can taste. Of course, considering that Il Vegetariano describes their wide dessert selection as their specialty, Gabe and I simply had to sample a slice of a crumbly tart jam-packed with succulent pears and apricots. Certainly no complaints there, especially when my entire meal cost less than 10 euro.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Gelateria Perche No!

Via dei Tavolini 19r, Florence, Italy 50122

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Gabe once again serves as my restaurant model.

Venturing out for gelato after enjoying lunch at home became a favorite ritual of mine and Gabe’s during the latter portion of our stay in Florence. While we most often headed to Festival del Gelato due to its close proximity to our apartment, Gabe and I opted on one occasion to sample another of Florence’s famous gelaterias, founded in 1939 and known as Perche No! (aka “why not!”). Upon first entering the small shop, I noticed and hugely appreciated that the gelateria had separated its non-dairy gelatos into a separate cooler, making ordering much simpler for myself and others who avoid dairy. On the day that we visited, Perche No!’s non-dairy flavors included banana, dark chocolate, pear, soy-based hazelnut, soy-based vanilla, strawberry, lemon, and raspberry. Funnily enough, Gabe and I both chose the soy hazelnut and raspberry to satisfy our daily gelato quota. While both gelatos held the exact flavor essence of their respective fruit and nut bases, the soy hazelnut proved less creamy than the rice-based hazelnut that we often enjoyed at Festival (strange, considering that rice milk tends to hold a much thinner texture than soy milk!). Regardless, Perche No! boasts some darn tasty gelato.

The "senza latte" (without milk) case at Perche No!

The “senza latte” (without milk) case at Perche No!

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Miso di Riso

Borgo degli Albizi 54r, Florence, Italy, 50122

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A couple of weeks before arriving in Florence, my mother emailed me to express her excitement that she had discovered a newly opened vegetarian restaurant called Miso di Riso (translated to rice miso) along the main pedestrian street in her neighborhood. As such, I made it a point to accompany my mother to lunch at the eatery during one of my final days in Florence. Brightly lit, filled with verdant potted plants, and boasting a plethora of vibrantly colored décor, Miso di Riso provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere in which to enjoy some macrobiotic-inspired vegan noms.

After ordering, my mother and I check out the dessert case to find such tantalizing creations as two mixed berry tarts, as well one with a semolina crust and chocolate ganache filling. While we opted to head to Festival del Gelato for dessert after our meal, Miso di Riso’s bakery selection definitely impressed me.

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Soon after we had sufficiently ogled at the dessert case, my mother and I received our plates. I chose to sample a savory tart of cauliflower and seaweed with a remarkably flavorful crust, accompanied by a meltingly tender pile of curried cabbage and a lightly dressed salad of gorgeous greens and shaved carrots. As for my mother, she opted for the tofu burger, complete with vegan mayonnaise and coupled with a colorful sauté of mixed vegetables, as well as a salad similar to mine. While both my mother and I “mm”-ed with delight at the features of our plate (the tart and burger) as well as at the impeccably fresh salads, the vegetable side dishes left us unimpressed—though tasty, they struck us as dishes easily made by any home cook. This new restaurant has a great base (and space!) on which to build, but it definitely requires improvement.

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Le Fate

Borgo Allegri 9r, Florence, Italy 50122

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About seven minutes before my mother, Gabe, and I planned to leave to see Stomp, my mother decided to call the restaurant at which we wanted to have dinner, only to find that they had no open tables for the night. Scrambling to find another eatery for the evening, we soon recalled another newly opened vegetarian restaurant that we had passed by on one of our evening passeggiare (walks), called Le Fate (translated to “the fairies”). With moments to spare, we secured a reservation and ran out the door to the theater.

That scramble for another restaurant resulted in one of the best gastronomic decisions of my trip, as the meal that my family and I enjoyed at Le Fate will live on in the Seiter family memory for years to come. True to its name, Le Fate boasts a rather enchanting dining room and a mystical menu: the four appetizers find inspiration in the four elements (earth, water, wind, and fire), while each of the entrees corresponds to one of the twelve astrological signs. Upon noticing the struggles of our English-speaking family to decipher the Italian menu, our charismatic waiter called the chef out of the kitchen to explain in detail every dish—VIP treatment, eh?

As a pre-meal amuse bouche, we each received a small crostini of house-made whole-grain bread spread with what I took to be an artichoke pate, served upon a leaf of soft and lemony sorrel. For an appetizer, the table opted to share a platter of house-made vegan cheeses and fruit compotes. Though I couldn’t discern the exact flavors of each of the cheeses, I could tell by the textures that two of them certainly featured agar-agar seaweed as a binder, while the other two seemed to be aged nut spread-type cheeses. Unfortunately, the latter two lacked the creaminess integral to satisfying cheese, though their flavors proved intensely complex. I have absolutely no complaints about the sweet and expertly spiced compotes, however.

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While I found the vegan cheeses a tad lacking, there was absolutely nothing subpar about any of our entrees. Indeed, every bite (both of my own dish and stolen from the plates of others) offered a new flavor and mouthfeel, providing for a hugely interesting and astronomically delicious meal.

The only diner of our party to order the dish that corresponded to their actual astrological sign, I chose the Vergine (Virgo) plate as soon as I heard the chef say “dates,” “fennel,” and “homemade basil tofu.” The bowl of homemade noodles coated in a creamy, succulent sauce of dates and caramelized fennel that I enjoyed that night still enters my dreams. Providing textural contrast to the silky pasta were leaves of bitter radicchio spread with house-made basil tofu and topped with orange segments and toasted hazelnuts. An inspired dish.

My mother opted for the Gemelli (Gemini) plate, which featured a bowl of fluffy-on-the-inside-crusty-on-the-outside biscuits in three savory varieties, accompanied by a number of spread and toppings: a mild golden chutney of onions and apples, a rainbow-colored salad of minced peppers, a fluffy and cloud-white vegan mayonnaise, oil-marinated heirloom white beans, and quenelles of smooth hummus. Um, wow.

Finally, both Gabe and my father chose the Capricorno (Capricorn) plate: creamy black lentil soup topped with a puree of white root vegetables, served alongside perfectly round balls of falafel with carrot-tamarind spread, and rounded out by a salad of mixed greens and ripe berries. Need I say more?

Though we all found ourselves too full to enjoy dessert, we did end the meal quite enjoyably by speaking with the bubbly owner of the restaurant—a longtime vegan and astronomer who gave us each our horoscopes before leaving. Le Fate’s inviting atmosphere, it’s enormously hospitable waitstaff, and its inspired and tantalizing culinary creations have earned a top spot on my list of most memorable travel restaurants, and I can hardly wait to return during my next trip to Italy (crossing my fingers that it’s soon!).

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Though I probably experienced one of the more perfect spring breaks of my entire life during the past two weeks, I’m happy to find myself back at school and among the community of my on-campus vegan living cooperative. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the spring on Farmers Market Vegan!

Until next time, Ali.

Actively Hoping and The Everyday Salad

A couple evenings ago, I invited an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long while over to my house for dinner. Given that a large portion of both of our college studies concern the social and environmental states of our world, we found much to discuss. Well into our dinner conversation regarding social and political change, my friend presented the notion of introducing “ethics overseers” onto the decision-making teams of corporations and political institutions, so as to prevent such entities from taking harmful actions in the name of material gain. Acknowledging that such overseers would undoubtedly harbor very different sets of ethics, my friend believed that their presence would at least introduce some moral guidance to normally questionable institutions. I found (still find) this idea interesting, but worry that it might serve as a band-aid solution to an underlying culture that conditions its members to prioritize the accumulation of wealth over the advancement of a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable society. In the long term, I would much rather see the grassroots cultivation of a widespread lifestyle of social responsibility and symbiosis with the earth, rather than a bunch of philosophers raising their eyebrows and shaking their heads at the suit-and-tie folks across the mahogany table.

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I completely understand that the former development will not come to fruition for a long time, probably not in my lifetime. But I don’t want to allow the distance of such a necessary occurrence to hinder the work that I do everyday in the hopes of one day achieving it. My friend called this mindset “idealistic.” I call it imperative for maintaining my sanity. If I didn’t let the hope of a better future guide my present actions, I would have long ago devolved into a puddle of depression. I would probably not be vegan. I would probably not be writing this blog post right now. I probably would have thought, “What’s the point? The world’s never going to change.” Through both my individual actions and those taken collectively with others who believe in an improved tomorrow, I maintain hope, I find the strength to continue, I envision the world in which I yearn for future generations to live. In opposition to such active hope (a term from Joanna Macy’s book of the same name that I’ve found hugely inspiring) lies stagnancy. If one does not believe in the possibility for change, the likelihood that they will think or behave in a progressive manner significantly decreases. But surely nothing will change if everyone thought, “What’s the use?”. Change comes from united groups of driven individuals who actively hope for positive social, political, environmental, any reform.

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Professor of political science and sociology Frances Fox Piven writes in her book Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America of the effectiveness of grassroots social movements in initiating significant reforms to the American political and cultural system. First highlighting the brokenness of American democracy with its inequality-ridden and corrupt electoral system, Piven insists that “there have nevertheless been periods of egalitarian reform in American political history,” and that such periods occur when “ordinary people exercise power [...] mainly at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and, by doing so, disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed” (16, 1). Piven evinces her claims with the abolition movement’s success in bringing the issue of slavery to the forefront of political discussion, and later in instigating the enactment of national civil rights legislation; as well as with the labor movement’s success in prompting the expansion of social welfare programs in the 1930s and 1960s. Further, Piven asserts that “disruptive movements are responsible for the truly brilliant moments of reform in American history [because] [...] when the movements decline, there are few new reforms, and those won at the peak of movement power are often rolled back” (111). Consider, for example, the fact that the welfare programs launched in the 1930s languished until a new period of protest in the 1960s forced their reenactment, or the fact that as the abolition movement waned in the mid-1870s, institutionalized white supremacy reemerged with a vengeance.

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As Piven displays, we cannot remain inactive toward the urgent issues facing our society and our world, for substantial change has historically always and only come from below. While one could never describe actively hoping for change as easy or comfortable, it has proven on multiple occasions effective in the long run. Not only do sustained efforts toward a better future eventually transform hope into widespread reality, they also profoundly impact the lives of the individuals participating in such efforts. As Joanna Macy affirms, “[a] powerful mental shift takes place when we stop telling ourselves why something can’t happen,” such that we “step[...] into a state of aliveness that makes our lives profoundly satisfying” (171, 4). I personally experienced such transformations when I stopped telling myself that my worth as a person depended upon my bodily appearance and ability to closely monitor my eating habits, and discovered in veganism a passion so deeply in and outside of myself that it directed and largely continues to direct the trajectory of my life (read more about my personal story of eating disorder recovery here on Our Hen House). As I mentioned above, I would not have recovered from such a dismal state had veganism not inspired in me the hope onto which I latched.

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So I encourage you to actively hope. I encourage you to employ your own personal skills in working toward the change you’d like to see realized. I encourage you to remind yourself that change takes time, and that though you may not see immediate results, as long as you and others continue on the path of intentional and conscious being, change will happen.

In the meantime, we all need a boatful of nutrients to sustain all that active hoping and active doing in which we engage every day! Along with my morning green smoothie, the salad below appears in my meal repertoire on a daily basis, whether tossed in a bowl in the comfort of my own kitchen or shaken up in a Tupperware while I’m on-the-go. Packed with leafy greens, raw veggies, seaweed, plant-based proteins, and healthy fats, this salad serves as a powerhouse of nourishment—both physically and now, for me, mentally, as my daily salad ritual provides a grounding moment midday. Enjoy.

The Everyday Salad—Low Sodium.

Serves 1.

Ingredients:

2 large handfuls of mixed salad greens
1 handful of alfalfa sprouts
A couple sprigs of fresh herbs, chopped (dill is my favorite here)
Sprinkling of dulse seaweed flakes (about 1-2 tbsp)
About 1 cup of raw veggies, chopped (carrots, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, etc.)
1/2 cup whole grain (quinoa, brown rice, millet, etc.)
1/2 cup beans (chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, etc.)
1/4 cup nuts or seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, walnuts, etc.) OR 1/2 an avocado, diced
4-7 tbsp Liquid Gold Dressing (I like mine dressed pretty heavily)
1 generous scoop of sauerkraut or other fermented veggies

In a large bowl, layer the salad greens through nuts/avocado. Drizzle the dressing on top, then toss well to combine. Place the sauerkraut on top. Serve.

Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend and Recipe Wednesdays.

Until next time, Ali.

Works Cited

Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012. Print.

Piven, Frances Fox. Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Print.

Vedge Cookbook Review + Spanish Roasted Brassicas Recipe

As I mentioned in my last blog post regarding development and consumerism, I find myself feeling quite uncomfortable during the holiday season—a time of family, love, generosity, and unity that our modern Western culture has overshadowed with greed, overconsumption, material accumulation, and Black Friday casualties. These disconcerting cultural tendencies, magnified during the holidays, bolster my urge to live simply, with minimal possessions and producing minimal waste. My view of living simply, though, does not necessarily mean living without gifts—indeed, they can provide a heartwarming medium through which to foster community and relationships—but rather prompts a rethinking of gifts and gift-giving.

My discomfort with our current mainstream notion of gifts stems from the attitude surrounding them. As a child, I judged the quality of my Christmas by the number of presents I received, even having the nerve to cheekily ask my mother, “That’s it?” if I felt dissatisfied. But would I ever feel satisfied if the importance of gift-giving lied in accumulating as much as possible? Could I ever escape the power that possessions wielded over me if the absence of the latest Apple product in my Christmas haul inspired in me resentment toward my mother?

Gifts with which I can feel comfortable stem not from the desire to own the latest technological gadgets, nor from a false need to surround oneself with “stuff,” but from a genuine feeling of love and gratitude between both of the gift-givers, and between them and the earth. In the dire state of our world, we must imbue all of our actions with a consciousness of alleviating our impact on the planet, and gift-giving proves no different. In my view, loving and earth-friendly gifts include those that the recipient can put to good use, and those that generate little to no waste. For example, the bulk of my Christmas list comprised of donations to various organizations such as Our Hen House, and Kindle cookbooks, which require minimal resources to produce as opposed to print books, and which I use every day.

But literally…every day. Not an exaggeration in the least. Because I view the act of providing non-vegans with flavorful, hearty, and unique food as integral to animal activism, I constantly look to my collection of virtual cookbooks for inspiration in such endeavors. I also view my cookbooks as helpful in honing the skills necessary for my ideal career path—one that creates a livelihood out of the aforementioned activism. Thanks to my dear mother, the latest additions to this Kindle cookbook collection include Vedge by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby; Vegan Secret Supper by Merida Anderson; Dirt Candy: A Cookbook by Amanda Cohen; Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry; Betty Goes Vegan by Annie and Dan Shannon; and The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook by Jere and Emilee Gettle.

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So that the section of my brain devoted to culinary creativity would not explode from all of the tantalizing recipes within the pages of these six cookbooks, I decided to limit my kitchen experimentation first to recipes from Vedge, since it comes from the masterminds behind my favorite restaurant. Featuring 100 recipes from the Vedge menu tweaked minimally to suit the home kitchen, Vedge perfectly reflects the sophistication, beauty, and locally sourced/seasonal philosophy of the highly acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant. Organized in a manner similar to that of the restaurant menu, Vedge starts off with “Small Bites and Small Plates” such as olives, salads, and light vegetable dishes; moves on to “Soups and Stews” that span from brothy pho to creamy parsnip-chestnut bisque; includes a “Dirt List” with preparations that maximally highlight seasonal and specialty varieties of vegetables; offers heartier “Plates” that hire beans, lentils, and grains as backup singers to the superstar veggies; appeals to the baker in all of us with creative fruit-based desserts (can you say Strawberry Sorrel Bread Pudding?) and unpretentious breads; and finishes with unique cocktails.

Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree (photo from the Vedge website).

Spiced Little Carrots with Chickpea-Sauerkraut Puree (photo from the Vedge website).

Eggplant Braciole (photo from the Vedge website).

Eggplant Braciole (photo from the Vedge website).

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers, and Red Onion (photo from the Vedge website).

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers, and Red Onion (photo from the Vedge website).

Since Christmas, I’ve had the pleasure of making and eating four of the book’s recipes, two of which my mother and I first enjoyed at the Vedge restaurant itself. The Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce constituted the appetizer of my family’s two-course Christmas dinner, though I used a homemade silken tofu mayonnaise instead of the Vegenaise recommended for use in the recipe (many of the recipes in Vedge call for vegan mayo, and Rich and Kate recommend Vegenaise. However, I found that homemade mayo provides a quality substitute in the recipes for those of us who like to avoid prepackaged products). A dish just as tasty as that we remembered from our visit to the restaurant, the smoky, just-charred sprouts with the tangy mustard sauce created a winning combination. My mother also noted that the texture of the shaved sprouts harbored so much substance that she almost mistook them for pasta. I have a feeling that we will be making this dish often.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

The night after Christmas, Vedge once again graced our plates with Celery Root Fritters and Remoulade (a pseudo-play on crab cakes and tartar sauce). Fostering an intense love of the knobbly, underused root, I found myself immediately taken by its double use in the recipe: once, roasted with onions, mashed, formed into patties, coated with chickpea flour and Old Bay seasoning, and pan-fried; twice, grated, blanched, and combined with vegan mayo, capers, dill, mustard, shallots and tarragon to create a tartar sauce-like spread, the taste of which you’ll never want to leave your tongue. I only wish that the recipe had specified to squeeze the excess moisture out of the grated celery root after blanching it, for the remoulade turned out a bit waterier than I would have preferred. All in all, though, a fabulous dish (the veggies you see in front of the fritters comprise a simple sauté of brussels sprouts and sunchokes, not featured in the cookbook).

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Celery Root Fritters & Remoulade; Brussels Sprout-Sunchoke Saute.

To please the ethnic food-loving palate of my best friend Maddie, whom I invited over for dinner one night, I played with Vedge’s Squash Empanadas with Green Romesco—homemade dough encasing a mash of squash roasted with coriander and cumin, accompanied by a bright yet deeply flavored sauce of roasted green peppers, garlic, cilantro, and toasted almonds. I substituted spelt flour and coconut oil for the all-purpose flour and vegan butter/shortening called for in the recipe, yielding flaky, toothsome results. However, the saltiness of the dough proved a bit much for my saltily sensitive palate, and I would probably omit the salt altogether as I usually do if I decide to recreate the dish. The other qualm I have with the recipe comes from the amount of roasting time specified. The recipe calls for roasting the squash at 400°F for 8-12 minutes and the peppers for 6-8 minutes, yet with small-diced veggies and an oven that errs on the side of too hot, the veggies required about double the time specified to adequately cook (I experienced the same problem with the celery root in the fritter recipe above). If you find yourself with the Vedge cookbook, I would recommend planning on roasting the veggies in any recipe for longer than specified, and to plan the cooking of your meals accordingly. Recipe technicalities aside, the dish proved crowd-pleasing and flavorfully stunning. I served it alongside a recipe of my own creation for Spanish Roasted Brassicas (recipe below).

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Finally, I tried my hand at another recipe with which my mother and I fell in love while dining at Vedge: Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade. Between bites of the soup, my mother and I could not help but exclaim, “This tastes exactly like bouillabaisse. But there can’t be fish in it…dear goodness, I hope there’s not fish in it…”. Rest assured, the folks at Vedge had not decided to renounce their morals in a single dish, but they sure created a memorable gastronomic experience for my mother and I. The soup features simmered cauliflower crushed to a rice-like consistency surrounded by a tomatoey broth spiked with white wine and Old Bay seasoning, complimented by a gremolata-like topping of parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. My version of the recipe increased the amount of rice called for and added chickpeas for substance, substituted brown jasmine rice for white, and (sadly) omitted the veryveryveryveryvvery pricey saffron. While I quite enjoyed the texture of the soup, I found its flavor a bit lacking, and I doubt that this unfortunate occurrence owes itself completely to the omission of the saffron. Unfortunately, this particular dish might be best left in the hands of the Vedge team (or in the hands of someone with some damn saffron…).

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Saffron Cauliflower Soup with Persillade

Tomorrow, I plan to experiment with Vedge’s Soba Bowl with Shiitake Dashi and Market Greens (a dish that authors Rich and Kate purport to enjoy every morning for breakfast with their son, Rio), adding a bit of pan-fried tempeh for some good old-fashioned protein. Beyond this surely warming and grounding soup, recipes I’d still like to try from the Vedge cookbook include a dish of peeled-open, marinated, and grilled portobello stems known as anticuchos; the Napa Cabbage Funky Kimchi Stew; the Warm Ramp Hummus; and the Whole Roasted Carrots with Black Lentils and Green Harissa.

If you enjoying playing around in the kitchen with involved recipes that feature the best produce the earth has to offer, then I would highly recommend picking up a (digital!) copy of the Vedge cookbook. With that, I shall leave you, dear readers, with the simple, Spanish-inspired dish I created to accompany the empanadas featured above. Enjoy.

Spanish Roasted Brassicas—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat.

Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:

1 small/medium head cauliflower, chopped into smallish florets
2 small/1 medium head broccoli, chopped into smallish florets
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower and broccoli florets with the oil, paprika, and sherry vinegar to coat.

Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the brassicas are tender and golden-brown. Serve.

Until next time, Ali.

I’M BACK!…With Za’atar Eggplant Rounds on Chickpea-Cauliflower Puree

Nearly three weeks ago, I alerted you, dear readers, to my hiatus from the blogosphere (as well as to my Thanksgiving shenanigans in NYC), necessary to turn in quality final semester assignments on time. I’m thrilled to say that four essays, a group project, a book review, and a flight from New York to Wisconsin later, and I’m back to blogging business! Since experimenting in the kitchen comprises one of my favorite activities to which to devote time while home in Madison, and since I published my last official recipe—yikes!—over a month ago as part of the Virtual Vegan Potluck, what better way to rekindle my relationship with the ol’ blog than with a new recipe?

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This Middle Eastern-inspired recipe grew out of two dishes that have long lived on my 41-page “Recipes to Try” Word document: this Cauliflower Puree with Roasted Chickpeas from Love and Lemons, and this Grilled Eggplant with Herbed Quinoa from The Sprouted Kitchen. Taking the puree from the former dish, I increased the chickpea-to-cauliflower ratio while substituting the rosemary for za’atar so as to match the flavoring of the eggplant in the latter dish, which I broiled instead of grilled (curse my lack of a grill pan). To the hybridized version of the two dishes I added a fresh, simple salad to brighten the dish. Colorful, succulent, smooth, crisp, and oh-so well seasoned, this dish harbors enough textural contrast and complementing flavors to inspire tingling on anyone’s palate.

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One last note before I relieve you of recipe suspense: I have failed to find za’atar seasoning in any of my local grocery stores, including Whole Foods and my beloved Willy Street Co-op. Thus, I finally took matter into my own hands and mixed together my own. It took up all of three minutes of my time and probably saved me about $5.00. You can find the recipe I used at the bottom of this post.

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Za’atar Eggplant Rounds on Chickpea-Cauliflower PureeSoy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium

Serves 1-2.

Ingredients:

1/2 small head of cauliflower (about 1 1/2 cups), broken into small florets
2 tbsp melted coconut oil, divided
1/2 small clove garlic, smashed
3/4 cup cooked chickpeas
1/2 tbsp za’tar (see end of post for homemade za’atar spice mix)
1/2 tbsp lemon juice

1 medium eggplant, sliced into rounds
Sea salt for sprinkling
Melted coconut oil for brushing

Large handful of arugula
1/4-1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice

Za’atar for sprinkling

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place the eggplant rounds into a colander, sprinkle liberally with sea salt, and toss to coat. Allow the salt to wick away the eggplant’s bitterness while you prepare the rest of the recipe. (Don’t worry; you’re going to wash the salt off later so all of that sodium won’t make its way into the final product).

Place the cauliflower florets in a medium bowl and toss them with 1 tbsp of the melted coconut oil. Roast for 20-30 minutes or until soft and browned in a couple of places. Once the cauliflower has finished roasting, set the oven to broil and place one oven rack on the top rung.

Let the cauliflower cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to the bowl of a food processor along with the remaining 1 tbsp of coconut oil, garlic, chickpeas, za’atar, and lemon juice. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Set aside.

Rinse the eggplant slices well to remove the salt. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat both sides of each eggplant slice with melted coconut oil, and place the slices on the same baking pan you used to roast the cauliflower. Broil the eggplant for 7-10 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown and very soft.

While you wait for the eggplant to broil, make the salad. Toss the arugula, cilantro, olive oil, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Set aside.

To plate, smear a layer of the puree on the bottom of a plate. Place the salad on top, then arrange the eggplant on top of the salad. Finish with a generous sprinkling of za’atar. Serve.

Homemade Za’atar Spice Mix

Makes about 1/3 cup.

Ingredients:

2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp marjoram
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp sumac or lemon zest

Directions:

In a small pan, toast the sesame seeds over medium-high heat until golden-brown and fragrant. Careful—they burn very easily if you don’t watch them closely.

Combine the toasted sesame seeds with the rest of the spices in a small bowl and use as desired.

Leftover za’atar can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend.

Until next time, Ali.

Catering Adventures: An Autumnal Menu for Fifteen

As the fall semester nears its conclusion, I find myself in the midst of a catering quasi-business. My position as co-president of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) has developed to include (and I’m thrilled that it has) the responsibility of event-catering alongside speaker-coordinating, meeting-facilitating, campaign-organizing, and conference-planning. Indeed, in the past three months, I’ve provided quality vegan grub for two campus lectures hosted by VARC: the first delivered by the ubiquitous Carol J. Adams (author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, don’t-cha know), the second by thought-provoker extraordinaire James McWilliams (can you say vegan pizza buffet?).

Most excitingly, my burgeoning catering skills have begun to elicit requests from other student organizations to provide fabulous animal-free goodies for their events. Doing so works to cultivate my ideal role as an animal activist of opening individuals’ hearts and minds to veganism through bountiful, flavorful, satisfying, and creative plant-based foods. Not to mention, it offers me a legitimate excuse to devote my time and energy to experimenting with new recipes and cooking techniques…for a profit, no less.

My first non-VARC catering request came from the Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC), who planned to host a spoken-word poetry night with the two queer activist poets (and gluten-free vegans) Alok and Janani who comprise Darkmatter, and wanted to host a small dinner for the artists after the event (funny how many individuals who fight for other forms of social justice also lead a vegan lifestyle…). Check out a couple of Darkmatter’s powerful performances here.

Stipulating only that I not use any walnuts and include a kale salad, QCVC bestowed upon me full reign over the dinner menu, with a budget of “not ridiculously expensive.” Turning to my infamous 49-page “Recipes to Try” Word document, I formulated an autumn-inspired catering menu to satisfy the vegans in the group and wow the non-vegans.

The meal began with a succulent, creamy Parsnip-Hazelnut Soup, inspired by the Parsnip-Chestnut Bisque in the newly released (and positively magical) Vedge cookbook. With only olive oil, onions, parsnips, hazelnuts, coconut milk, salt, and pepper as ingredients, the soup highlighted the sweet, earthy flavor of the parsnips, accentuated further by the toasty richness of the hazelnuts. Though I would have loved to create the original soup recipe with chestnuts, the natural foods store I visited for catering ingredients did not carry them. Thus, I turned to nuts of a similar sweetness as chestnuts, and ended up immensely pleased with the modified soup’s final flavor. Served in a slow-cooker, the soup remained steaming hot throughout the entire dinner.

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To provide textural contrast to the smooth soup, I roasted up two trays of chickpeas coated in maple syrup and cinnamon, inspired by My Whole Food Life. Proteinous croutons, no?

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Next to the soup sat a big ol’ bowl of kale salad. Though I didn’t follow an exact recipe for the salad, I did draw inspiration from this salad featured on Choosing Raw. My method of salad creation follows: cut three bunches of lacinato kale into chiffonade; massaged said kale with the flesh of two avocados, two tablespoons of olive oil, four tablespoons of maple syrup, and two lemon’s worth of juice; stirred into the massaged kale one kabocha squash’s worth of roasted squash cubes and 1 1/2 cups of toasted pumpkin seeds. The resulting salad featured an amalgamation of flavors and textures, with the melt-on-your-tongue, succulent squash; the crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds; the rich, creamy avocado; the complexly sweet maple syrup; and the tanginly acidic lemon. Honestly, though, how could a dish that incorporates kabocha squash, maple syrup, kale, and avocado not inspire gastronomic nirvana?

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As per the request of my VARC co-president Katie, the meal’s vegetable side dish comprised of meltingly tender roasted sweet potato fries, accompanied by the oh-so garlicky cashew aioli from Christy Morgan’s cookbook “Blissful Bites.” One spoonful of this aioli and it became all I wanted to put in my mouth for the rest of my life (well, until I remembered kale…and roasted brussels sprouts…and kombucha…okay, the sentiment didn’t last very long). I only wish that my blender could have pureed the aioli into a smoother consistency, though I suppose I’ll have to wait for perfectly silky cashew creams until I receive a Vitamix for my college graduation gift (some students ask for cars, Ali prefers blenders).

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Because I’m familiar with the sheer joy of encountering good-quality gluten-free bread, I wanted to bake up an artisan loaf for Alok and Janani. I had seen this recipe for Farmhouse Seed Bread circulating all over Pinterest and garnering rave reviews for months, and yearned to experiment with it myself. Since the natural food store I visited did not carry teff or sweet rice flour, I substituted equal amounts of buckwheat and tapioca flours, and experienced fabulous results. The boule featured a crackly crust and a moist, dense interior—ideal for soaking up the Parsnip-Hazelnut Soup.

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Finally, to round out the meal, I made the dessert that never fails to impress any eater, no matter how picky or averse to veganism: a raw cheesecake. With a silky smooth filling and a simultaneously crunchy, chewy, and caramely sweet crust, it’s no wonder that of all of the catered dishes, only the cheesecake did not produce at least a small amount of leftovers. I employed this basic raw cheesecake recipe, layering thin slices of crisp apples on top along with a scant drizzling of maple syrup.

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The dinner guests offered only positive feedback about all of the dishes. I can hardly wait until my next catering gig, and in the meantime, will plan to engage in some publicity measures in order to gain attention for my…business? Wish me luck!

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #9: Caramelized Pumpkin & Onion Salad with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and Limey Pinto Bean Dip

vegan mofo 2013

Last night’s Ferry House dinner came courtesy of my dear housemates Eric and Rocky, the latter of whom interned with Animal Place this summer and participated in the nationally publicized rescue of 3,000 hens. Eric, a phenomenal chef and gastronomic connoisseur, never fails to produce an inspired, full-flavored, and well-seasoned meal for our humble co-op, and last night’s dinner proved no exception.

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Influenced by two recipes in Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen (which Eric generously gifted to me last Valentine’s Day during Ferry House Secret Valentines), Eric and Rocky provided the house with a gorgeously presented pinto bean dip accentuated with cumin and lime, as well as a succulent, colorful salad of caramelized pumpkin and onions, parsley, and lemon juice sprinkled with roasted pumpkin seeds. (I, of course, enjoyed my dinner on a bed of spinach. A girl needs her greens.)

Pinto bean dip.

Pinto bean dip.

In other news, yesterday marked the 2013-2014 kickoff of Meatless Monday on the Vassar campus, which has thrived for three years now. In only the two hours of my tabling shift, students filled three signup sheets in enthusiastic support of the program. I mean, we did offer them pins with dancing cows on them…who could resist?

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Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant Exploration: Le Pain Quotidien

Though I haven’t featured a restaurant review on the ol’ blog for nearly a month, rest assured, dear readers, that I’ve engaged in some serious DC restaurant-perusing since recounting to you my enjoyable experience at Busboys and Poets. If you recall my list of veg-friendly DC eateries, perhaps the featured restaurant of this post, Le Pain Quotidien, won’t surprise you. Though not a part of my aforementioned list before I arrived in DC, Le Pain Quotidien became a desirable meal destination after I discovered its adorably rustic storefront while first exploring the neighborhood I’ve called home for nearly six weeks now.

Image courtesy of runinout.com

As a young Belgian chef who had worked at a number of highly esteemed restaurants, Alain Coumont fruitlessly sought the perfect bread to feature at his own establishment. Dissatisfied with the quality of bread available in Belgium, Alain decided to open a bakery rather than a restaurant as he had originally intended. The city of Brussels soon became ardent fans of Alain’s sourdough-style levain bread, inspiring the young chef to expand his bakery menu to include pastries, tartines, and simple salads. Today, Alain’s bakery-café has exploded with success, boasting over 185 locations in 17 countries, yet maintains its original integrity by offering simple, high-quality, organic, and wholesome food, as well as by supporting local charities in NYC and LA. Unfortunately, they also proudly sponsor an annual sheep-shearing festival in upstate NY, which I’m sure the sheep involved in the event would not appreciate. Perhaps if I had adequately researched the destinations of LPQ’s finances (as well as their ridiculously high prices, which I’ll cover later) before patronizing one of the DC locations, I would have chosen to enjoy dinner elsewhere.

Oblivious to these two downsides to LPQ, Katie, my fellow intern at Compassion Over Killing, and I ventured to the European-style eatery after a long, rewarding day of leafleting. After seating ourselves at a pleasantly unpolished wooden table and gushing over the fresh simplicity of the menu, impressively vegan-friendly for a European chain restaurant, Katie and I paged through Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook that lay upon one of the long communal tables on which LPQ prides itself.

Image courtesy of runinout.com

Our waitress delivered our dinner selections in a quite timely manner, which I will eternally appreciate considering the alarming volume of my stomach rumblings on this particular evening. Katie and I both began our meals with a salad of impeccably fresh mesclun, surprisingly flavorful tomatoes, crisp cucumber and radish slices, and a small wedge of juicy cantaloupe in an intensely herby vinaigrette.     le pain quotidienSoon after scarfing down our salads, Katie and I each received another colorful plate featuring our respective entrees. Katie opted for the six-vegetable vegan quiche—an almost mosaic-like layering of various vibrant veggies in a gluten-free buckwheat crust and topped with a grilled artichoke heart. While the savory tart packed a delightful punch of flavor, I can’t imagine that the miniscule slice on Katie’s plate adequately filled her hungry tummy. For $12.75, Katie should have received easily triple the amount of quiche than she actually did.

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For my entrée, I chose to partake in one of LPQ’s seasonal specials—a springtime platter of sweet pea hummus, beet tartare, peppery arugula dressed lightly with olive oil, fluffy quinoa, thinly shaved ribbons of carrot and zucchini, and French lentils, all served alongside two slices of LPQ’s famed levain bread. Every component of the dish tasted wonderfully fresh and burst with flavorful simplicity, while the moist sourdough bread provided the perfect vehicle on which to enjoy the spreads featured on the plate. I again, however, must complain about the amount of food I received in relation to the amount I paid for it. Relatively scant portions of each of the dish’s components cost me $13, whereas the infinitely more filling Tempeh Panini and side salad that I enjoyed at Busboys and Poets set me back only $9.

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Though already frustrated at LPQ’s arguably unfair prices, I awarded priority to my still unresolved hunger over my miserliness and ordered two desserts to split with Katie. Surprisingly, LPQ offers a couple of dairy-and-egg-free pastries alongside their more traditional European baked goods, including an apple cannelé, a hazelnut flute, and a cupcake-sized carrot cake. Katie and I opted to sample the carrot cake—a dense yet moist cylinder of not-overly-saccharine cake flecked with brightly orange shreds of carrots and plump raisins, lightly frosted and sprinkled with sunflower seeds.

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Only a scoop of ice cream could have improved the carrot cake, though the creaminess of our second dessert certainly provided adequate contrast to the dense cake. Though listed with the other breakfast items, the “crunola” parfait provided a quite delightful conclusion to our meal. A sweetly tart mash of magenta-hued raspberries layered atop a raw granola of buckwheat, almonds, and raisins begged for Katie and I to mix it into the thick blend of bananas and coconut milk swimming at the bottom of the parfait glass. I quite enjoyed that LPQ didn’t fully puree the bananas and coconut milk together, maintaining a couple lovely chunks of banana in the dessert.

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All in all, I happily savored LPQ’s fresh, light, and simple fare, but don’t plan on returning to the eatery in the near future due to its stingy portion sizes and astronomically high prices; indeed, I spent nearly $30 on a meal that just barely filled my growling belly. Lesson learned: don’t trust the Europeans (JUST KIDDING!).

Next up on my DC restaurant exploration list: Founding Farmers.

Until next time, Ali.

Roasty Toasty Soba Noodle Bowl with Coconut-Peanut Sauce

One of the innumerable boons of interning at Compassion Over Killing, the fabulous national animal advocacy non-profit, comes in the form of a free lending library. In the back room of COK’s DC office sit two bookshelves—the first boasting such inspiring animal activist literature as Mark Hawthorne’s Striking at the Roots and Nick Cooney’s fascinating and invaluable Change of Heart, the second featuring a wide array of works in my personal favorite literary genre: cookbooks. Little did my boss and COK director Erica Meier know that when she informed me of the books’ availability for informal rental, I would cram as many of them as possible into my soon bursting backpack and haul nearly half of the entire library back to my apartment. Hey, no one else wanted to use them; I couldn’t in good conscience simply leave those paperback gastronomic masterpieces to gather dust!

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The COK library cookbooks through which I’ve already thumbed include Terry Hope Romero’s Viva Vegan! and Vegan Eats World, Lindsay Nixon’s The Happy Herbivore, Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan Brunch, and Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza’s The Candle Café Cookbook. Isa’s “Tofu Benny” already played a role in the development of my recent Tofu-Kale Benedict on Homemade Muffins, while I eagerly look forward to recreating Terry’s Jamaican Plantain and Pumpkin Curry. Today’s featured dish, however, derives its impetus from the Coconut-Peanut Sauce that accompanies Joy and Bart’s Tofu Satay. Immediately after laying eyes upon the umami-rich sauce recipe, I developed quite the hankering for a bowl of…well, anything, really (veggies, brown rice, a shoe…) smothered in coconutty-peanutty-lipsmacking goodness. Lo and behold, not fifty pages after the Coconut-Peanut Sauce, The Candle Café Cookbook highlights a recipe for Spicy Soba Salad with Creamy Wasabi Dressing. Ali’s train of thought: “Coconut-Peanut Sauce sounds yummy. Coconut-Peanut Sauce would taste yummy on my flip-flop. Wait! Coconut-Peanut Sauce would taste even yummier on a bowl of soba noodles! Yes. Now that I think about it, soba noodles with Coconut-Peanut Sauce sound much yummier than flip-flop with Coconut-Peanut Sauce.” And thus this recipe was born.

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I’ve manipulated Joy and Bart’s original Coconut-Peanut Sauce a bit by increasing the amounts of both peanut butter and coconut milk while decreasing the amount of tamari to produce a thicker, creamier, less salty sauce. This dish earns its “roasty toasty” title from the lemongrass-roasted cauliflower and kale, both of which impart a gorgeously deep, nicely charred flavor, with the citrus tones of the lemongrass picking up nicely on the lime juice in the sauce. While the chickpeas add a nutty dose of protein, the arame seaweed contributes a generous share of both calcium and magnesium in its ever-so-slightly sweet strands. Depending on the varieties of cauliflower and soba noodles you use, your finished dish may or may not boast the same Maleficent-esque color scheme as mine does; try to track down purple cauliflower and mugwort-infused soba noodles if you desire the same sinister-looking bowl. I hold no responsibility, however, for those of you who transmogrify into dragons after tasting the gigantically intense flavors of this purple-black-and-green creation (c’mon people, hasn’t anybody seen Disney’s Sleeping Beauty? Quite the high-quality film, I must say).

Roasty Toasty Soba Noodle Bowl with Coconut-Peanut SauceLow Sodium

Serves 4-6.

Coconut-Peanut Sauce Ingredients:

5 tbsp unsalted peanut butter
5 tbsp coconut milk
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
2 tbsp low-sodium tamari
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1 small clove of garlic

Lemongrass-Roasted Kale and Cauliflower Ingredients:

1 small head cauliflower, broken into small florets
4 small-medium leaves of kale, chopped
2 small dried stalks of lemongrass, ground into a powder in a spice grinder or 1/2 large stalk of lemongrass, grated on a microplane grater
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil or melted coconut oil

Remaining Ingredients:

1/2 cup dried arame seaweed
8 oz soba noodles (make sure you buy 100% buckwheat noodles if you’re gluten-intolerant; many brands include wheat flour)
2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Make the Coconut-Peanut Sauce. Place all of the sauce ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside. Can be made up to five days ahead of time.

Soak the arame. Place the arame seaweed in a bowl large enough to hold the arame after it expands to three times its original size. Cover the arame with a generous amount of water and let soak for at least 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and rinse.

Roast the kale and cauliflower. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the prepared cauliflower and kale with the lemongrass and oil until well-coated. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and the kale is crispy.

Make the rest of the dish. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the soba noodles and cook according to package instructions. Drain and run under cold water. Place the cooked soba noodles, chickpeas, drained arame, and roasted veggies into a large bowl. Stir to combine. Add the coconut-peanut sauce and stir well to coat. Serve warm.

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Recipe submitted to Healthy Vegan Fridays, Allergy-Free Wednesdays, and Wellness Weekend.

Until next time, Ali.

First Days Interning with Compassion Over Killing and a Tofu-Kale Benedict on Homemade Muffins

As I mentioned in my last post, last Saturday I trekked from my beloved Vassar home in New York to my summer residence in Washington D.C. Just north of the nation’s capital, Takoma Park, MD houses the headquarters of the phenomenal animal advocacy and vegan outreach non-profit known as Compassion Over Killing, for whom I’m proud to intern until mid-August.

In 1995, current vice president of the Humane Society Paul Shapiro founded COK as an all-volunteer high school club and served as its campaigns director until 2005, when my current boss and tireless animal activist Erica Meier took over the organization. Though COK has always functioned with a small staff and limited budget, it has and continues to tremendously impact the lives of farmed animals and spread the message of compassion for all beings, both human and non. In fact, COK has carved out a public reputation comparable to much larger animal advocacy organizations like PETA and Mercy for Animals. To name a handful of COK’s impressive campaigns, the organization has exposed numerous factory farms of egregiously cruel practices with undercover investigations, aired national pro-vegan commercials on MTV, worked with Morningstar Farms and Boca Foods to drastically reduce or completely eliminate (respectively) eggs from their products, and filed a successful lawsuit to end the egg industry’s continued use of the deceptive “Animal Care Certified” logo on egg cartons. Currently, COK works with Subway to provide more substantial vegan options than simply veggie subs with guacamole, hosts the U.S. Veg Week in April and the D.C. Veg Fest in September, continues their undercover investigations, and enacts strong legal pressure on the egg industry to stop misleading labeling practices. I could not harbor more pride toward working for a noble organization, uncorrupted and uncompromised in its core values thanks to its perpetually small size, and led by a strong-willed woman—one of the only female leaders in the American animal rights movement.

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While I’ve only spent a mere week interning with COK, I’ve already contacted numerous locations of a national restaurant chain to inquire as to what vegan options they offer, handed out nearly 100 leaflets, staffed the first and wildly successful Rehoboth Beach Veg Fest, which took place just this weekend, and helped launch the Twitter campaign to promote national restaurant chain Tropical Smoothie’s recent addition of Beyond Meat chicken-free strips to its menu. Thanks to help from COK, Tropical Smoothie now offers the option of substituting with no extra cost the acclaimed Beyond Meat for the animal-based chicken normally used in its salads, sandwiches, wraps, and flatbreads. If you live near a Tropical Smoothie location, from now until June 30 you can help raise money for my darling organization by snapping a photo of your Beyond-Meat-ified Tropical Smoothie meal, sharing the photo via Twitter or Instagram, and tagging both @TSmoothieCafe and @BeyondMeat in the post. If Tropical Smoothie and Beyond Meat receive 500+ posts before June 30, Beyond Meat will make a donation to COK. Yay for animal-free options in national chain restaurants!

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Though my 9:00 am-4:00 pm internship doesn’t allot me much free time, especially if I decide to attend a yoga class at my newly adopted D.C. studio of Yoga District after work, I’ve still managed to spend a good healthy chunk of time in the kitchen. My most recent endeavor in the surprisingly well-equipped kitchen of my D.C. apartment featured a vegan take on the brunch classic of Benedicts. Looking for a means of creatively employing the muffins I adapted from the Buckwheat Batter Bread recipe in Gluten-Free and Vegan Bread, I stumbled upon Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s “Tofu Benny” while paging through the COK office’s copy of her cookbook Vegan Brunch, and decided that regular muffins would prove just as delicious as the English variety normally featured in Benedicts. After adapting both Isa’s recipe for marinated tofu and Kristy’s recipe for cashew hollandaise sauce, as well as adding a succulent sauté of kale and mushrooms into the mix, I created a truly delectable dish that would put any cruelty-based eggy Benedict to shame. Indeed, since COK devoted much of its attention toward combatting the egg industry, it seems perfectly fitting that my first recipe post since beginning my internship would feature a compassionate version of a dish normally based in the suffering of hens. Erica and the rest of the COK staff—this one’s for you.

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Tofu-Kale Benedict—Nut Free, Low Sodium.

Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:

4 Buckwheat Muffins (recipe below)
1 batch Smoky Miso Tofu (recipe below)
1 batch Cashew Hollandaise (recipe below)
1 batch Kale-Mushroom Sauté (recipe below)
4 cherry tomatoes, halved or 4 slices of heirloom tomato

Carefully slice the muffins in half horizontally, taking care not to crumble the more delicate muffin top. Toast the muffin halves to your liking. Spoon a dollop of the Kale-Mushroom Sauté on top of the cut side of both of the muffin halves. Layer each half with a slice or two of tofu, a generous drizzle of Cashew Hollandaise, and either two cherry tomato halves or a slice of heirloom tomato. Serve.

Four-Grain Muffins

Makes 4 muffins.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup medium grind cornmeal
1/3 cup teff flour
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
2 tbsp + 2 tsp brown rice flour
1 tsp coconut nectar or maple syrup
2/3 cups water

In a large mixing bowl, mix together all of the ingredients until very well combined. Cover with a dish towel and let rest in a warm spot (about 70 degrees) for 10 to 12 hours, and up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease four tins on a muffin tray and dust with flour. Pour the rested batter evenly into the four tins. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Smoky Miso Tofu

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients:

1 lb extra firm tofu, sliced into about 16 slabs
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp sweet white miso
2 tsp tamari
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1-2 tsp liquid smoke
2 tbsp olive oil, divided

Combine all the marinade ingredients, using only 1 tbsp of olive oil for the marinade, in a shallow dish. Lay the tofu in the dish, taking care that each slab of tofu comes is contact with as much contact with the marinade as possible. Marinade for at least an hour and up to overnight, flipping the tofu halfway through the marinating process.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Place the tofu slices in the skillet and cook for about 5-7 minutes each side, until a golden-brown crust forms on the outside. Reserve the unused marinade (you will use it in the Kale-Mushroom Saute).

Cashew Hollandaise

Makes about 1 cup.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 1 hour
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Water to blend

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender, adding as much water as needed to reach the desired consistency (I used about 6 tbsp of water).

Kale-Mushroom Sauté

Serves 1-4.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp coconut or olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 bunch kale, chopped
4 cremini mushrooms, sliced

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Stir in the cumin and paprika, then add the kale and mushrooms. Sauté for about 7-10 minutes, until the kale is wilted and tender.

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Recipe submitted to Waste Not Want Not Wednesdays, Allergy-Free WednesdaysHealthy Vegan Fridays and Wellness Weekend.

Until next time, Ali.

Quickie Post: Lavender-Cardamom Nut Butter

This past Friday, to finish off the last of my stock of sprouted almonds and sunflower seeds, I opted to puree up another batch of homemade nut butter. However, I didn’t have enough sprouted nuts to facilitate blending in my regularly-sized foot processor, so I made up the difference with a bit of flaxseed meal. I had also, on a whim, picked up a bit of dried lavender buds during my most recent jaunt to the top-notch natural food store and vegan deli of Mother Earth’s Storehouse, and they caught my eye just as I prepared to create my nut butter concoction. Deciding to go all-out in my flavored nut butter-ing, I added the sweet spice of cardamom and a bit of vanilla extract to compliment the lavender. The thick nut butter that ensued imparted one of the most addictive aromas my nose has ever had the pleasure of smelling, and added an unbelievable dimension to my creamy banana-hemp oatmeal the next morning.

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Obviously, you can create this nut butter with any blend of nuts you prefer, sprouted or not. If you use non-sprouted nuts, though, I’d recommend toasting them first to tenderize them and lighten the labor of your food processor.

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Lavender-Cardamom Nut Butter—Raw, Oil Free, Soy Free, Low Sodium.

Makes about 1 cup.

1/2 cup almonds, sprouted or toasted
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, sprouted or toasted
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1 tsp dried lavender buds
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the almonds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed meal in the bowl of a food processor. Blend for up to 20 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until the nuts adopt a creamy, liquidinous texture (don’t fret, it will happen sooner or later!). Add the lavender, cardamom, and vanilla, and process until fully incorporated. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Recipe submitted to Waste Not Want Not Wednesdays, Allergy Free Wednesdays, Raw Food Thursdays, Foodtastic Fridays, Healthy Vegan Fridays, and Wellness Weekend.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another essay to write refuting Michael Pollan’s assertion that supporting “humane meat” will combat industrial agriculture more effectively than adopting a vegan diet.

Until next time, Ali.