Mushroom-Chestnut Soup

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I’ve wanted to make a soup with chestnuts in it for the past three months. November failed in chestnut soup-making because who can expect the miniature grocery store just off of campus to stock chestnuts? December fared no better because clearly everyone else wanted to make chestnut soup, too, and thus yanked all of the bags of fresh chestnuts off of the shelves at the Whole Foods in Madison, WI (where I spent winter break) before I could get to them. January didn’t do so hot because chestnuts had just gone out of season and had therefore gotten expensive and I felt guilty spending $10 of my parents’ money on a jar of chestnuts when they’re already paying inordinate sums for my college tuition and soon my unfulfilled desire for chestnut soup resulted in me crying into my mother’s bosom, thanking her profusely for supporting my education and fully acknowledging my family’s privilege in being able to do so and…well, by then I had forgotten about chestnut soup.

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So I finally found inexpensive jarred chestnuts at, who knew, the miniature grocery store just off of campus. And I ate the subsequent soup without experiencing the need to sign my soul to my parents. A lengthy and emotional journey, all for soup with chestnuts, but I dare say that this soup certainly merits its preceding turmoil. Creamy, rich, unctuous, and full of comforting spices, this soup will warm you inside and out during the continuously arctic temperatures. Enjoy.

Mushroom-Chestnut Soup—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat

Serves 3-4.

Ingredients:

5 cups sliced cremini or button mushrooms
3 tbsp melted coconut oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
1 can coconut milk
2-3 cups mushroom broth
1 cup roasted chestnuts, jarred or fresh
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Toss the sliced mushrooms with 2 tbsp of the oil. Spread out in an even layer on a baking sheet and roasted for 20-30 minutes, or until the mushrooms have taken on a golden-brown hue and released some of their juices.

While the mushrooms roast, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for 5-7 minutes, or until translucent, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add the spices and sauté for another minute. Add the coconut milk, mushroom broth, and chestnuts. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, until the mushrooms have finished roasting, at least 15 minutes.

When the mushrooms have finished roasting, add them and their juices to the soup pot. Let the mushrooms simmer in the broth for another 5-10 minutes, then puree, either with an immersion blender or (very carefully) in a standing blender. Stir in the apple cider vinegar. Serve hot.

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Recipe submitted to Healthy Vegan Fridays and Wellness Weekend.

Until next time, Ali.

Review & GIVEAWAY! of The Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk & Cookbook

This giveaway has closed. Congratulations to Amanda Thomas!

I’m elated, dear readers, to host Farmers Market Vegan’s second giveaway—an exciting one, indeed. One lucky reader will receive a copy of The Vegg Cookbook: Egg-Free Cooking Uncaged, as well as two packets of The Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk. Click the above link or the link at the bottom of the post to enter to win these top-notch prizes. The giveaway will close at 12:00 a.m. EST on Tuesday, January 21, and I will announce the winners later than day.

Photo credit to Vegan Cuts.

Photo credit to Vegan Cuts.

I first encountered The Vegg this past summer while interning with the animal advocacy non-profit Compassion Over Killing, who provided much support and promotion for the 2012 launch of the vegan egg yolk. (The below opinions of The Vegg, however, are completely my own and not in any way influenced by my work with COK). While I sold many a packet of The Vegg to enthusiastic patrons of the events at which COK tabled this summer, I didn’t have the chance to experiment with it myself until Vegg developer Rocky Shepheard contacted me about reviewing his cookbook on the ol’ blog. Needless to say, I responded with an earnest “yes,” and here I am today, writing this post, regaling the wonders of The Vegg, right now at this very moment…you get the picture.

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Longtime vegan and animal rights activist Rocky Shepheard began tinkering with a recipe for a vegan egg yolk in 2010 after reading an April Fool’s Day article about a commercially available vegan fried egg. Two years later, Rocky had transformed a joke into a reality and introduced The Vegg onto the market, giving the over 280 million egg-laying hens in the U.S.—most of whom spend their lives intensively confined inside barren wire cages—something to cluck about. With the appearance, texture, taste, and even smell of a chicken’s egg, The Vegg provides a cruelty-free replacement in any traditionally egg-based recipe—French toast, omelets, hollandaise, crème brulee, breaded and fried foods, you name it. While The Vegg cannot provide the functional properties of eggs in baking, it can enhance any sweet (or savory!) treat with a rich, surprisingly accurate eggy flavor. Hesitant at first to try The Vegg based upon my assumption that it contained questionable ingredients, I happily discovered that The Vegg comprises of nothing more than fortified nutritional yeast (get yer B12 here, kids!), seaweed-derived sodium alginate, and black salt (which imbues The Vegg with its characteristic eggy aroma and flavor). An egg yolk free of cholesterol, gluten, soy, GMOs, and animal suffering? Yes, please.

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Released the year following the launch of The Vegg, The Vegg Cookbook features nearly 70 vegan recipes from Rocky, Sandy Defino, and food-blogging fans of The Vegg that highlight the versatility of the vegan egg yolk. Divided into three sections—Morning Medleys, The Main Dish, and Sweet Satisfaction—the cookbook features such tantalizing recipes as The World’s Best (and Most Realistic) Vegan Fried Egg, Tangerine French Toast, Vegg Tempura, Artichoke-Tomato Quiche, Mom’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Banana Cream Meringue Pie, and more. For my foray into the world of The Vegg Cookbook, I chose to sample one recipe from each section of the book.

One important requirement for successful use of The Vegg in all recipes, however, involves blending the powdered vegan egg yolk with either water or plant-based milk (depending on your recipe) in a mini blender or food processor, since blending by hand will yield less-than-smooth results. I own a mini food processor that works quite nicely for The Vegg, though I’m sure a spice grinder would also do the trick. During the blending, you’ll begin to freak out about the eggy aroma emanating from your blending apparatus. Upon my first blending endeavor, I sprinted into the living room to fetch my father, forcing him to stick his nose into my mini food processor. He agreed as to the accuracy of the smell…though perhaps without my same level of enthusiasm.

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Photo credit to Veganoo.

I first tried out the Crème Brulee, submitted by none other than Erin Wysocarski of the fabulous vegan blog Olives for Dinner. The recipe involves combining a blended Vegg-water mixture with coconut milk, sugar (I used maple sugar), and vanilla, then simmering the mixture with agar powder to impart a gel-like consistency. While my use of maple sugar didn’t produce the satisfying crackly crust akin to crème brulees, the finished dessert otherwise proved immensely successful. Creamy, eggy, and just sweet enough with an oh-so decadent mouthfeel, the crème brulees had my parents raving for days after licking their ramekins clean.

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Venturing into the cookbook’s savory territory, I whipped up the Vietnamese Pancakes with Veggies & Herbs, courtesy of Nancy Montuori Stein of Ordinary Vegan. The thin, crepe-like pancakes contain rice flour, a blended Vegg, turmeric, and coconut milk, providing a bright yellow, satisfyingly squishy wrapper for the brightly flavored shredded veggies and herbs inside. Topped with a spicy-sweet dipping sauce, this recipe yielded a gorgeously hued dinner with a flavor-packed punch, though the egginess of The Vegg didn’t come through in the pancakes as much as I would have liked.

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My Vegg Cookbook review endeavors ended with a version of the Scrambled Tofu from Helen Rossiter of Lots of Nice Things. The original recipe seemed to me as a template of sorts, containing only a blended Vegg, tofu, and scallions sautéed together. To spice up the dish, I borrowed the seasonings from Janet’s Dillicious Tofu Scramble and added shredded brussels sprouts and shiitake mushrooms to the mix, serving the scramble alongside a pile of roasted potatoes. I’m uncertain if I added a touch too much turmeric or if I failed to adequately cook the blended Vegg into the dish, but something seemed off both flavor- and texture-wise in the finished dish. Probably due to my mistake, the shortcomings of the tofu scramble should in no way dissuade you from the merits of this cookbook (but should perhaps dissuade you from using a heavy hand with turmeric…).

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With half of a packet of The Vegg still left after my experiments, I’m excited to try out some more recipes from the cookbook. However, I’m even more excited for you to familiarize yourself with The Vegg and its cookbook! For your chance to do so, be sure to click on the link either below or at the top of the post and enter the giveaway by 12:00 a.m. EST on Tuesday, January 21. Happy Vegg-ing!

***NOTE: This giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.***

This post is submitted to Healthy Vegan Fridays and Wellness Weekend.

This giveaway has closed. Congratulations to Amanda Thomas!

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.

The Myth of Development & the Harms of Consumerism | Brussels Sprouts & Sunchokes in Green Curry Sauce

On this day—the fourth day after Christmas, the 30th day after Black Friday, the 106th day after my birthday, the whatever-th day after everyday on which we in our culture expect to spend money or receive gifts—I find myself once again pondering consumerism. As a Geography major, I often encounter the notion of “development-as-progress” in my studies at Vassar. By development, of course, I don’t mean the implementation of running water or basic social services—these sorts of developments almost certainly serve as markers of societal progress. No, the development that I’m talking about, the kind that keeps me up at night, regards economic growth as essential for prosperity, and thus encourages us to consume (natural resources, money, animal products, land) more than we ever have before. It subjugates the earth by regarding our life-sustaining planet at a commodity. It contributes to ever-intensifying class disparities between Western and non-Western cultures by deeming earth-friendly indigenous modes of production as “inefficient” and “unproductive,” insisting upon the necessity of technologically mediated modes of production for “progress.”

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But considering that this “development” has manifested in resource depletion, climate change, social division, mass extinction of species, factory farming, and more, do we really want to “progress” in this manner? Do we really want to invest ourselves in a lifestyle that, by valuing the pursuit of wealth and possessions as an end unto itself, “is associated with lower levels of well-being, lower life satisfaction and happiness, more symptoms of depression and anxiety, more physical problems such as headaches, and a variety of mental disorders”? (Macy & Johnstone 46). The time has come to realize that our consumptive habits enact profoundly negative consequences upon the earth and all of its inhabitants, rather than asserting it as an unquestioned “American way of life,” as did President Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer in May 2001 (Macy & Johnstone 13). In the words of feminist environmental activist Vandana Shiva, we must “redefine[e] [...] growth and productivity as categories linked to the production, not the destruction, of life [through an] ecological and a feminist project which legitimizes the way of knowing and being that create wealth by enhancing life and diversity, and which delegitimizes the knowledge and practice of a culture of death as the basis for capital accumulation” (12).

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By necessitating that I carefully choose the food I consume, veganism has familiarized me with the practice of analyzing my own consumption and that of our broader culture. This awakened consciousness about consumptive patterns has prompted me and others—such as my housemates in the vegan co-op in which I live at Vassar—to buy food in bulk so as to reduce packaging, to reuse plastic bags for vegetable storage, to drink only out of reusable water bottles, to purchase used items rather than buy new ones, to donate used items, to not flush after every trip to the bathroom, etc. These practices may seem like insignificant behaviors in the face of an enormously destructive Western system of consumption—and we also engage in harmful practices such as using computers, etc.—but they are indicative of the growing popularity of modes of intentional living that re-envision “development” and “progress” as symbiotic earth-human relationships similar to that described by Shiva above.

Of course, veganism does not automatically lead to a sense of urgency in combatting general capitalism and consumption. Indeed, innovative vegan companies have recently taken the market by storm—offering humane versions of meat, cheese, and eggs, yes, but also playing within our problematically capitalistic system. Towards these companies, I find myself in a state of ambivalence. On the one hand, I worry that they embolden our consumerist culture by adding new products to the market and encouraging customers to “buy into” veganism. On the other hand, I wonder if these companies provide a business model in harmony with the aforementioned modes of intentional living, in that they offer animal- and environmentally-friendly alternatives to astronomically destructive industries. Clearly, I’ve still got some thinkin’ to do, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, as well.

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A new endeavor that gives me hope in the face of all this mythological development, consumerism, and ambivalence comes in the form of a self-sustaining vegan eco-village based on a gift economy, named Eotopia. Conceptualized in large part by Raphael Fellmer and Nieves Palmer—a German couple who has thrived living completely without money for over a year now—Eotopia defines four main objectives of the project: creating a sustainable village through permaculture, reuse and recycling, self-sufficiency, and a vegan diet; forming a functional gift-economy; providing a system of free education; and cultivating a community of love, trust, and personal change. Eotopia currently lies in the beginning stages, seeking both community members and a viable piece of land on which to construct the community, but has laid out a timeline that expects to achieve 50-100% self-sufficiency by late 2015. Ideally, I would love to participate in such a community in my future life, but that will have to wait at least another two years until I wave goodbye to Vassar.

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To provide some levity on this weighty, thought-provoking topic, I give you, dear readers, a plate-lickingly scrumptious recipe that puts the “reuse” part of intentional living in action by employing the sweetened condensed coconut milk leftover from making my famous holiday “butter” pecan rum balls. Enjoy.

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Brussels Sprouts & Sunchokes in Green Curry Sauce—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium.

Serves 2-3.

Ingredients:

3/4 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1/2 lb sunchokes (aka jerusalem artichokes), scrubbed and cut into small chunks
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight (be careful not to shake during or after refrigeration)
5 tbsp green curry paste (about 3/4 of a jar of Thai Kitchen brand)
1 tbsp maple syrup (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, toss the brussels sprouts and sunchokes with the melted coconut oil. Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, open the can of refrigerated coconut milk, taking care not to shake it. Scoop only the top layer of coconut cream into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, saving the coconut water at the bottom of the can for a later use (great for smoothies!). Add the curry paste and the maple syrup (if using) to the saucepan with the coconut cream, and gently stir the ingredients together as they melt. Allow the sauce to simmer while the veggies roast.

Once the veggies are tender and nicely browned, add them to the saucepan. Stir together and allow to simmer gently until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10-15 minutes. Serve.

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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.

Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. London: Zed Books, 1989. Print.

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.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi in Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown “Butter”

Between midterms, hosting Carol Adams’ Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show, and getting my recovery piece published on Our Hen House, I’ve simply not found the time nor energy to devote to recipe experimentation for the ol’ blog. Hopefully, my 20-some days of Ferry House dinners for Vegan MoFo 2013 kept you inspired throughout my two-week absence; if not, I dare guarantee that the recipe that I’d like to share with you today will inspire your forgiveness.

As October continues and we delve further into autumn, I’ve predictably found my gastronomic energies gravitating toward the warming, grounding foods that grace the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, from which Ferry House procures a double farm share each week. Last Saturday, I had the immense honor of biking to pick up the House farm share on a bright, crisp morning, stuffing my canvas tote bags chock full of kale, swiss chard, spinach, celeriac, beets, rutabagas, butternut squash, broccoli, and carrots. Since the majority of my housemates have departed from campus to enjoy our week-long October Break elsewhere, I’ve had the luck of basking in this wealth of fall produce with only a handful of other people, able to concoct maple-glazed, pumpkin-spiced, caramelized, autumnal goodness at my leisure. Photos of two such concoctions follow:

Creamy cauliflower soup with celeriac and roasted garlic topped with umami-style sautéed kale.

Creamy cauliflower soup with celeriac and roasted garlic topped with umami-style sautéed kale.

Nori rolls with turmeric brown rice and quinoa, gingery black bean spread, maple-sautéed swiss chard, and julienned beets and carrots.

Nori rolls with turmeric brown rice and quinoa, gingery black bean spread, maple-sautéed swiss chard, and julienned beets and carrots.

While both of the above dinners certainly fulfilled my longing for warming and grounding eats, one could easily find today’s recipe featured next to the phrase “quintessential fall foods” in the Farmers Market Vegan Dictionary (release date TBA). Combing caramelized butternut squash, savory sage, and the epitome of autumn comfort otherwise known as maple syrup into fluffy pasta pillows, this dish will nourish the soul just as exquisitely as it will the body. Served atop a bed of garlicky kale and pinto beans, this succulent gnocchi provided the hearty, soulful meal that I deeply desired after a 26-mile bike ride to and from New Paltz (yes, I will bike the equivalent of a marathon for vegan, ethically sourced chocolate from Lagusta’s Luscious).

While I used chickpea flour for the gnocchi, you can really use any lightly colored flour that suits your fancy—I’ve successfully produced gnocchi before with brown rice flour, but I suspect that millet and quinoa flours would also work well. However, you can definitely discern the flavor of the flour in the gnocchi, so choose a flour that agrees with your taste buds. I personally enjoy the bean sprouty flavor of chickpea flour, but know that I could not stomach the bitter undertone of quinoa flour in a delicate dish like gnocchi. Whichever flour you choose, prepare yourself for a piping hot bowl of autumnal snugness.

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Butternut Squash Gnocchi in Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown “Butter”Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium

Serves 2-4

For the gnocchi:
1 medium butternut squash, cut in half and seeds scooped out
1 1/4-1/2 cups chickpea flour, plus more for dusting

For the brown “butter”:
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/8 tsp salt
Pinch black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place the butternut squash halves facedown on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour enough water on the sheet to come about a quarter of the way up the pan. Place in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle.

Set a medium-sized pot of water to boil.

When the squash has adequately cooled, scoop out the flesh. Measure out about 2 cups of the flesh, and mix it with 1 1/4 cups of the chickpea flour. If the mixture seems to sticky, add another 1/4 cup.

Dust the countertop (or another flat work surface) with chickpea flour. Divide the gnocchi dough into quarters and roll each one out into a thickish snake, dusting your work surface with additional flour as needed to ensure that the gnocchi doesn’t stick. Cut each snake into 1-inch pieces.

When the water has begun to boil, place the gnocchi 10 at a time in the pot. Allow to cook until they float to the surface of the water, about 30 seconds. Scoop out of the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander set atop a bowl. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi.

When all of the gnocchi has finished cooking, combine all of the brown “butter” ingredients in a sauté pan and set over medium-high heat until the mixture just starts to bubble. Add the gnocchi to the pan and sauté for about 1-2 minutes, taking care to coat the gnocchi well in the “butter.” Remove from the heat and serve, perhaps over a bed of garlicky kale (mmm…).

Recipe submitted to Waste Not Want Not Wednesdays, Healthy Vegan Fridays, and Wellness Weekend.

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Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #25: Teriyaki Veggie Rice, Kale Salad, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Green Beans

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Ferry Dinner last night came courtesy of Hannah and Matt—two of the house’s newest members, who have acclimated quite well to the egalitarian, consensus-based, hippie-loving, kale-worshipping, nutritional yeast-devouring Ferry community. Indeed, all of the Ferries who moved into the house at the beginning of this semester have integrated themselves snugly into the Ferry lifestyle, leaving friendly post-it notes on room doors, baking bread, and discussing urgent social issues. The new Ferries, too, have become accustomed to the inner workings of the Ferry Kitchen, in which our entire stock of spoons disappears in the span of a single day and the refrigerator overflows with leafy greens. Last night marked the first Ferry Dinner made by only new house members, and Hannah and Matt ensured the success of this landmark event with a unique, flavorful, and well-crafted meal.

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The main dish consisted of an Asian-style not-fried rice—more of a pilaf of impeccably cooked brown rice mixed with sautéed carrots, mushrooms, and teriyaki sauce—that boasted a tangy umami flavor. Brussels sprouts and green beans roasted with tamari provided a similarly profiled side dish, while a salad of kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers in a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar offered a fresh, bright accompaniment to the many unctuous flavors in the meal.

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In Vassar news, I recently crafted an infographic for my Cities of the Global South geography class that highlights why radically shifting away from animal agriculture constitutes a necessary step in maximizing global food security and minimizing environmental impact as the world rapidly urbanizes. Many of my courses at Vassar present me with opportunities to incorporate animal/vegan activism into the classroom—a rather unsurprising (yet no less exciting) fact given the college’s largely activist-oriented student body. I become heartened every day as I witness social justice activists from all movements beginning to consider animal rights, and hugely value the immense amount that I continue to learn from the activists surrounding me. Ah, Vassar.

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Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #24: Balsamic Veggie-Bean Salad, Roasted Brassicas, & Quinoa

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Over the course of last semester, I became relatively familiar with each of my Ferry housemate’s individual cooking style: Gabe D. favors casseroles; Alan likes to get fancy with veggie burgers and pizzas; Gabe B-G prefers simple three-part meals of veggie, grain, and protein; Franny serves as Ferry Soup Master; etc. While I appreciate the creativity, skill, and uniqueness of every Ferry cook, I do tend to become particularly excited every two weeks when Eric takes over the kitchen. Sharing a deep adoration of well-seasoned dishes, simply roasted vegetables, and generous amounts of tangy salad dressings, Eric and I jive quite well in terms of our outlook on cooking and what constitutes high-quality food (though Eric carries out the whole “seasoning dishes well” thing much better than I do). Indeed, for Ferry’s house-wide Valentine’s Day gift exchange last year, Eric presented me with a copy of one of his favorite cookbooks—The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley—and forever solidified our cooking-style solidarity, which revels in fresh, deeply flavored, unpretentious, nourishing, and simple fare.

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Last night, with the help of fellow healthy eating enthusiast Tamsin, Eric produced a dinner perfectly suited for my palate and preferred style of eating. A zippy salad of navy and pinto beans mixed with a medley of tender and finely diced green beans, carrots, and eggplant constituted the highlight of dinner, shining in all of its balsamicky glory. Accompanied by golden brown, impeccably tender, and nicely oiled roasted broccoli and cauliflower, as well as a pot of impressively fluffy quinoa, the salad offered a meal to satisfy my soul as well as my taste buds. Eric and Tamin’s dinner—rife with minimally manipulated fresh veggies, ample seasoning, and a cold composed salad—reminded me quite closely of the meals that my mother and I enjoy preparing together, offering a taste of my Madison home in my Vassar home.

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Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #18: Dinner on Empty & Dinner on Full

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Every month, Ferry House experiences a complete reversal of our food supply levels. As the weeks after our most recent bulk food order wear on; as our stock of dried chickpeas, brown rice, and peanut butter wanes; as the 21 house members clean out the refrigerator’s veggie-laden shelves within mere hours of grocery shopping, Ferry members must employ their utmost culinary intuition in order to adequately nourish themselves on the lone eggplant, bag of sweet potatoes, and dregs of lentils left in the house.

Obviously, these so-called “food shortages” don’t actually prove dire, seeing as all of us Ferries can easily access campus dining and off-campus grocery stores. I would never even fathom suggesting that any house member actually faces a danger in the kind-of-lack-ish of food in Ferry that occurs every so often, for to do so would essentially crap privilege all over the groups of people who live in food deserts and harbor legitimate worry regarding the origins of their next meal.

In any case, I thought that comparing Ferry meals made from an abundance of supplies with those made with a dwindled stock would prove fairly interesting. Ooh! Let’s play a game: guess which meal came from empty, and which came from full.

Meal #1: Vinegar-brined roasted potatoes, curried cauliflower casserole, tamari-ginger green beans, millet, and baby kale, all sprinkled with nutritional yeast (courtesy of darlings Gabe and Tim).

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Meal #2: Gluten-free flatbread, farmers’ market cherry tomatoes, curried lentil stew with garlic and carrots, and roasted brussels sprouts (provided by the always fabulous Noah and Lanbo).

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And here’s where you contemplate.

And here’s where you guess.

And the reveal…

Meal #1 came from a largely empty pantry and fridge, while Meal #2 came from a house stuffed full of newly purchased groceries and bulk supplies. If you’re so inclined, be sure to leave a comment professing your guess.

If perhaps you’re curious to know what sort of food sustains a 21-person vegan co-op for a month, below I’ve listed a number of the supplies included in our most recent bulk order:

1.) 24 packages of tempeh
2.) 25 lbs each of brown rice, quinoa, navy beans, and black beans
3.) 64 cartons of non-dairy milk (a mix of almond and soy)
4.) A 9-lb container of crunchy peanut butter
5.) 12 jars of tahini
6.) 12 cans of coconut milk
7.) 5 lbs each of almonds and dried figs
8.) 6 bottles each of balsamic vinegar and agave nectar

Quite understandably, house excitement surrounding bulk delivery parallels that of a house member’s birthday. Ah, bulk. How I love you so.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #17: Easy as Rosemary Apple Pie

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I’ve gained a reputation on the Vassar campus as a sort of “expert vegan” thanks to the ol’ blog, my articles and cooking videos for the campus news paper, my co-presidency with the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC), and my residency in Ferry House. From this inherited role, I’ve fielded such questions as, “But what exactly is tofu? Can you elaborate upon the intersectionalities between veganism and Judaism? Will you show me how to use the stir-fry station in the Deece (Vassar’s dining hall)?” Not only do these inquiries come from housemates and close friends, but also from random classmates with whom I’ve never before spoken, over Vassar Gmail, and through Facebook. Recently, my VARC co-president and I have decided to expand this role of “expert vegan” to encompass VARC’s most devoted members as a whole with the launch of the Veggie Buddy System. A blurb about the program follows:

“VARC’s Veggie Buddy System pairs veg-curious folk and aspiring vegans/vegetarians with experienced vegans in an effort to ease the transition to a more compassionate, environmentally friendly lifestyle, and thereby render veganism/vegetarianism more accessible to a larger number of Vassar students. Providing an immersive and guided experience through the first month of your veg journey, the Veggie Buddy System ensures you a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and friendly companion available 24/7 to answer any and all of your veg-related inquiries.”

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The first round of the System begins on Sunday, October 6, and I find myself nearly exploding with kale in excitement, especially considering that I’ve envisioned the birth of this program since my senior year of high school. For the next few weeks, however, I’ll have to satisfy my yearning to provide vegan mentorship by continuing to respond to my campus’ various veg-related requests. The latest of these I received from my fellow Miscellany News staff member, who asked if I could whip up some allergy-free goodies to celebrate the birthday of another staff member with gluten and soy intolerances. Pff, just gluten- and soy-free? Give me a challenge.

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I would have created a more elaborate dessert if not for the lack of coconut milk, agave nectar, peanut butter, and gluten-free oats in the Ferry pantry (we’ve reached the dregs of our monthly bulk order—thank goodness I pick up the next one tonight). Thus, I produced a simple yet flaky, naturally sweet, uniquely herby, and all-around scrumptious Rosemary Apple Pie in less than 30 minutes. How’s that for “easy as pie”?

Simple Rosemary Apple Pie

Makes one 9″ pie.

Ingredients:

5 medium-sized, sweet apples, cored and diced
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 tsp lemon juice

2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (I like the one from Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup coconut sugar
5 tbsp coconut oil, solid
5 tbsp cold water
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the apples, rosemary, and lemon juice. Set over medium-high heat, cover, and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring periodically until the apples have broken down.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, and coconut sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Add the coconut oil, water, and lemon juice, then cut the wet ingredients into the dry using either a pastry cutter, a fork, or your hands (I much prefer the latter) until a uniform dough forms. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan, then bake the crust for 10 minutes.

When the apples have broken down, pour them into the prebaked crust and bake for another 20 minutes or until the crust is golden-brown.

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Recipe submitted to Healthy Vegan Fridays and Wellness Weekend.

Until next time, Ali.