Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More Middle East Feast

A couple of Friday's ago we were craving middle eastern food, and we decided to make falafel from scratch. Honest to goodness falafel. So I did some reading in my Middle Eastern cookbooks, comparing recipes and conducting important falafel research, and discovered...real falafel is made with soaked, but NOT COOKED, garbanzos! Did you know that? I felt like I cracked some kind of secret code or something. And I'm ashamed I hadn't sat down and done the reading earlier in life!

Falafel is full of green. Green and bean. That's why I love it!

It's so very easy to whip this up, actually. It's basically soaked beans, parsley, cilantro, and various spices. I diverged from tradition though, in the cooking department.

Though they don't puff  up when fried this way, they are still delicious.
 I didn't deep fry my falafel - instead I opted for little patties that we sauteed in a spray of olive oil. I wanted to save my calories for the rest of the tahini-laden feast. And I'm afraid of deep frying....

Dear dolma, you are in my heart.

Tahini sauce, or tahini dressing, or tahini drink. I love tahini!
Tahini is made from sesame seed paste. Available both raw and roasted, I always opt for roasted tahini. I buy mine in gigantic jars from Barbur World Foods, because I find the quality of Lebanese tahini to be consistently tastier, and also much more affordable. Why pay $7.99 for a 16 oz. jar at Whole Foods when I can get a 48 oz. jar for $11.99? Right.

Tahini sauce is barely a recipe. Tahini, garlic, salt, lemon juice, water. Tahini is very bitter on it's own - it's not the kind of seed or nut butter you spread on toast by itself. It requires a few other ingredients to make it amazing. But once you get it in your rotation of sauces and dressings, you will be dipping or spreading everything in iron-packed tahini. Here's a rough guide to amounts for you:

Tahini Sauce
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 large clove garlic
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup water

Mix all the ingredients in a food processor or blender, beginning with the lesser amounts of salt and water and adjusting to your taste. You can make this thinner or thicker as you like, depending on the amount of water you use. The sauce will thicken in the fridge, just thin it out with water!

Amazing Arabic bread!
Another fun thing about international markets...You won't find this amazing bread at your local Fred Meyer, eh? Plus, there are amazing delights in the deli to be had.....

Veggie Kibbeh from Barbur. Get it there or at Ya Hala!

Simple fava bean salad with bell peppers & olive oil
Every Middle East Feast had better be served with a garnish plate. Pink pickled turnips, olives, mint, tomato slices, pita bread, cucumbers, taboulleh, pickled jalapenos or carrots if you like it spicy. Plus, you can make hummus, baba ganouj, and be sure to have plenty of tahini sauce to dip or pour on everything. Dessert should be simple, some little oranges or maybe a date or two. If you have room in your belly, that is.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kale Taboulleh Yahooey!

One of our new lines and future shirts, etc. at Herbivore is "Only Kale Can Save Us Now" because if you haven't heard, kale is like, REALLY good for you!

Anyway, months ago I thought about making this taboulleh - and I had either just used my kale or didn't have any bulgur. Or the dog ate my bulgar, you know how it is.

There was some coffee bit into, but barely spilled. whew.

Bulgar and nutritional yeast mixing it up ON THE FLOOR.
Yeah, Sassy ate the damn bulgar! ARGHHHH!!!!! And funny thing is I think she used the step stool to get up to the counter.

Anyway - KALE!!!
Kale is something of a darling these days, which is a really fun thing to type. It seems like every vegan I know is always eating kale, there are bars that serve kale now (probably just in Portland, but still!) and people are munching away on kale chips and sipping kale smoothies....and I felt like my boring steamed kale or sauteed kale was just getting OLD.
Hello, Mr. Taboulleh!

Step aside Mr. Parsley, Ms. Kale is in town.

I have had a love affair with the middle east for years now, and have been to Beirut, Lebanon a couple times (not the Oregon town of Lebanon, though. hmmm....). I admit I've got a snooty palate for typical middle eastern food. Thankfully, Portland is home to some seriously good traditional homestyle Lebanese food, but I don't partake as often as I probably should. So I make do with trips to Barbur World Foods and make my own crazy versions, which now I will share with you.

Kale Taboulleh
1/2 cup bulgar
1 bunch curly kale, deveined & torn into smaller pieces
2 small (like in a plastic container but avoid this b/c it's a ripoff!) or 1 regular bunch fresh mint, leaves only
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped (green, white, red, whatever you have!)
2 small or 1 big clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/4 to 1/3 cup lemon juice (to taste, about 2 lemons)
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil (your choice, really)
1 teaspoon salt

Measure bulgar into a bowl or cup and pour boiling water to cover about an inch above grains. It will be absorbed & ready in about 20 minutes. Put some kale leaves into the bowl of your food processor, and pulse a few times. Add leaves until all the kale is chopped super fine, like the picture above. Add in the mint and pulse a bit more. You want this all chopped super fine! Scrape greens into a large bowl, and add fluffed bulgar on top. Add remaining ingredients (start with lesser amounts of lemon and oil) and taste for adjustments. You might like more salt, more lemon, etc. Stir it up really well, making sure to get everything all mushed up together. You can eat it now, but honestly, it's best if you wait a while, and it's even better the next day!

This is so easy it's obvious why people have made it for centuries.
Stir it up, stir it up!
The more kale you eat, the more vegan you are.
We ate this in a bowl after it was finished. We ate some the next day, with leftover falafel and just by itself. It obviously could play a lovely part in a mezze spread, with hummus, olives, eggplant, etc. You could put it in a sandwich! Add it to a greens salad, or, if you really want to be adventurous and eat like a true Beiruter -- put some of this lovely taboulleh in a bowl and top it with lentil soup. Usually that is done with fattoush (bread salad) but it works beautifully with a hearty salad like this, too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Vegans Make me Smile

Last week I had the pleasure of talking with a woman about her family going vegan. She has a husband and two little people. We found a book to make the transition to easier for her foodwise, something simple to replace the basics she'd been making for years. I sat down and read the book that she got, finally - because I hadn't. And it is really good and super helpful. So much information is covered quickly and with an ease and style that is readable, nonjudgmental, but so very vegan. The author is Alex Jamieson, famous (at least to me!) for repairing Morgan Spurlock and nursing him back to health after he ruined himself making the documentary Super Size Me.

I don't like the word dummie, but I really like this book.
Anyway, I absolutely love talking with fired up new vegans! Lucky me that I've done this so many times - but it is always so damn awesome to connect with a person who has recently had that "aha!" moment and seen that much of what she thought was healthy and good, was actually making her family sick. What she thought was simple and true (milk is good for you!) was actually complicated and deceitful, and she was TICCED OFF! It was great because she took that energy, convinced her husband to go vegan, and completely switched her family overnight. I teared up talking with her. Part of her vegan education was seeing Forks Over Knives, which will be coming out soon. People. I implore you. Take a friend to see that movie. It could literally save their life, not to mention how many animals it could save if they stopped eating them!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

If you don't come to Portland to visit the vegan mecca that it is, then you must come to consume the tomatoes of a Portland summer. You're crazy if you don't. Certifiably crazy, and that is not an exaggeration. I'll never forget when I first discovered the "early girl" variety at the Portland Farmers Market....I would buy an entire grocery bag full, take them home and put them in pretty bowls to look at, and eat them with sourdough bread and basil and olive oil. Early girls ripen early (really? ha.) and are small, red sweet little numbers that scream TOMATO! Then I learned how to grow my own - and the varieties I love have expanded and my counters some years are over-run with tomatoes of every color. I even have a framed picture of some particularly beautiful tomatoes that we grew. I love summer for tomatoes! Sadly, some summers in Portland just never warm up enough, and twice we have been left with 8 plants heavy with the weight of hard, green tomatoes. That is a sadness I push from my memory - the sun will not disappoint this year, oh no.
But in these dark days of winter what's a gal to do about needing a good tomato? My budget is not of the $4.99 per pound flown in from wherever that have no flavor and are usually mealy. Ugh. No. I am more of the "let's make lemons out of lemonade" kind of person, only in this case, with tomatoes.
I make these little gems!

It's not their fault they were born as normal cherry tomatoes.
Some time in the oven has improved the little guys.

Perfectly roasted in the oven on a February day.

Roasting a vegetable (or in this case, a fruit) will bring out it's natural sugars and flavors. Slow roasting intensifies this for tomatoes. With their high water content slow roasting creates a chewy, sweet treat instead of a blob of boiled tomato.

Slow Roasted Oven Tomatoes
1 package or bunch of cherry tomatoes - a lot!
olive oil spray
kosher or sea salt

Preheat your oven to 250°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the tomatoes in half and line them up next to one another on the baking sheet. Spray generously with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast in the oven for at least an hour, up to two hours. The time depends on the size of the cherry tomato. You want the tomato to be shriveled up and even can be browning a bit. Just take one out and taste it - you'll know it's done when it's a bit chewy and it's super sweet tomato taste knocks you on the floor.

You can use these anywhere. On top of pizza, tossed in pasta, on toast with tofu ricotta, in a sandwich, in a quesadilla, layered in lasagna, in pesto, in salsa, or as a snack. Only 5 or 6 more months 'til tomato season hits PDX!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quick Curried Tofu Scramble

Tofu is an ingredient that many omnivores shun, yet many vegans adore. I admit I had NO clue to what to do tofu the first time I made it. It was 1999 and I actually tried marinating some in red wine with garlic and olive oil. It turned out and pink, jiggly and burnt. Well, those days are a dim memory, but there is a lot to learn about tofu. If you are new to tofu, you must learn how to treat it right, that's all. And you must learn which tofu is good to use for which application. But one recipe that is really hard to mess up is a good tofu scramble. No marinating is required, and you can use up some vegetable odds and ends in the process of making a filling and fantastical breakfast! Or dinner. We'll talk about other tofus soon, promise. But for now, we must scramble!

Tofu, Vegetables, Toast. Tasty.

Tofu scramble can be made with firm tofu, extra firm tofu, super firm tofu, extra super firm tofu....but NOT silken tofu. NEVER silken. You will always use a tofu that is in a plastic tub or that is completely wrapped in plastic, never in the aseptic container. Personally, I like any firm-ish tofu in a scramble, but I mainly buy super firm tofu, because it is versatile and is more dense and chewy. You may wonder about the need to press tofu for a scramble. I think it's not necessary, since I add water to help mix the spices in....and since the scramble doesn't need to stay together like a tofu "steak" would, pressing isn't required. The other great thing about super firm tofu is that I never press it - in fact, I haven't pressed tofu in years.

The other choice you have with scrambles is whether you like to crumble or cube your tofu. I usually cube, but today I crumbled. Call me crazy. It looks very eggy when you crumble. Here's how I made our scramble this morning.

1 medium onion, chopped or sliced
1/2 package extra-firm tofu
leftover steamed kale, chopped. however much you've got - or fresh spinach
1 large carrot, grated
1 teaspoon garlic granules
2 teaspoons Indian curry powder
1 teaspoon chopped chives or cilantro
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/2 to one cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce or Bragg's

Spray olive oil in a large non-stick skillet (or cast iron, but use a bit more oil.) On medium-high heat, saute onion until it starts to brown. Next, add your tofu, either crumble it right over the pan or toss in your cubes. Let it brown for a couple minutes, stirring periodically.
While the tofu browns, get your spices. Add the garlic, curry powder, chives or cilantro and nutritional yeast. While mixing that in, add some water, depending on how dry your pan is. If there is a lot of moisture, don't add much or even any, but if it's dry, add water to help incorporate the spices. Add the Bragg's, then let it cook for few more minutes.
Add the leftover veggies and warm through. Eat with toast or tortillas or whatever you like.

The curry powder made it yellow - tumeric does the same thing.

This scramble could have easily had spinach, tomatos, cauliflower, broccoli - you name it. It could have been flavored Italian style, with basil and oregano - or Mexican with cumin and coriander. But I happened to have these veggies right there, ready to rock. And curry sounded good! This took less than 10 minutes to throw together. Josh changed the flat on my bike while I made breakfast, we ate, and then we were off to work!