My (low-fat vegan) fast food wish comes true

One of the guilty little pleasures that I used to indulge in once or twice a year was a large order of Jack-In-The-Box seasoned curly fries and their buttermilk ranch dressing to dip it in.  While it still sounds (mostly) good to me, I do remember afterward having to continually clear my throat due to all the phlegm that I’d get from eating so much oil at once.

Now that I finally figured out how to make satisfactory crispy and fat free oven fries, I decided to take on those seasoned Jack-In-The-Box fries I used to have and see if it can also be made just as delicious and crispy without any of the fat.

Guess what?  It can be done.  Oh so deliciously done.

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I promise, you can make french fries in the oven without any oil that are just as crispy as fried ones.  Bonus: no continual clearing of your throat because there’s no fat involved.

I like to leave the skins on my potatoes unless they’re looking pretty gross.  (If that’s the case, the whole potato probably is bad.)  I finally gave in to buying a little vegetable scrubber which, in my opinion, is somewhat superfluous to have, but when you like to leave the skin on, you won’t find me complaining about it’s price and the minimal amount of space it takes up!photo 1photo 3One trick I’ve learned to getting fries crispy when baking is to get rid of some of the starch in the potatoes.  The particular method I found that works well for me is to let the potatoes sit in water that was/is boiling for two minutes.  (I’ve seen others who make hot water and let potatoes soak in it for 15+ minutes.)  If you want to skip this step, at least rinse the potatoes really well after cutting to remove that superficial layer of starch that turns the potatoes brown (and not in the crispy way you like them brown).

photo 4While crispy, fat-free oven baked fries are easy enough to do, the biggest draw back is the amount of space you need if you want to get them done right.  Ideally you want the fries to be completely spaced out and not touching each other when going into the oven – this will ensure a prompt cooking time and crispy fries.  If you don’t space them out, they’ll cook (though likely still won’t stick to one another) but it’s going to take a while to get them all done.  So if you have multiple baking sheets and a big enough oven, simply make this process easier on yourself and just utilize all the surface area you can!photo 5

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Seasoned Crispy French Fries

Makes two large baking sheets of fries that aren’t touching, good for 3 people as a side dish or just barely enough for 2 hungry people as the main dish

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 medium-sized russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 vegan “egg”, paste-like (i.e. Ener-G Egg Replacer egg = 1.5 tbsp powder + 2 tbsp water OR ground flax seed egg = 1 tbsp flax + 2 tbsp water) OR 2 tablespoons aquafaba
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • Scant 1/2 tsp cayenne

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 deg F.  Place a pot of water on high heat to start warming the water, you want enough water so that the potatoes will be submerged.  Cut potatoes into french fry-sized pieces.  Once the pot of water has reached a rolling boil, place the potatoes in the water for 2 minutes then immediately drain and dry with paper towels or a kitchen towel.  (As soon as you put the potatoes in the boiling water, the boiling may temporarily stop, but that’s okay – still only let them sit in the pot for 2 minutes.)

If using a vegan “egg”, mix it in a large bowl then add in the remaining ingredients and mix until it reaches a paste-like consistency that slowly runs when you tip the bowl on its side.  (Add only a tiny splash of water at a time and mix until the consistency is right.)  If using aquafaba, add it and the seasonings in a large bowl and mix till combined.  Put the potatoes in the bowl and toss to coat.

Place the coated potatoes on two parchment paper-lined baking sheets without letting them touch.  Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the sheet, bake another 8-10 minutes, flip and turn the fries, and bake in 3-5 minute increments until done (see notes regarding baking time).  You know they’re done when the fries look a bit puffy and deformed from their originally flat-sided shape.  Remove from the oven and enjoy on their own, with ketchup, or vegan ranch dressing!

 Recipe Notes:

  • Okay, I confess: I personally haven’t tried making this with the ground flax seed “egg” yet.  But with my experience using flax seed as an egg replacement, my brain says it should work!
  • Have you heard of aquafaba? It hit the vegan work with a bang in the spring of this year (2015). It can be used mostly as a egg/egg white replacer! Why I say “mostly” is because it works in most instances, but not all (no one has perfected angel food cake with it as of today, 10/16/15). On the other hand, it’s being used for all sorts of foods, like: meringue, macarons, macaroons (yes, there’s a difference), mayo, ice cream, egg wash, binder in quick breads and cookies, emulsifier in dressings, etc.
  • If you want to make less or more than 3 medium-sized potatoes, you can!  Just use enough baking sheets so that the potatoes are spaced out and not touching.  The total baking time depends on your oven, baking sheet, how thick you cut the fries, and if the fries are touching or not.  Long story short?  Keep an eye on the oven so you don’t get burned fries!  Also cutting them as evenly as possible is helpful.  And I mentioned this above, but you know the fries are done when the sides start to puff out.
  • I’ve found out that not all baking sheets are created equal and one of my sheets will completely burn a few fries at the 20 minute mark while the other doesn’t quite get there after 24 minutes.
  • Once I tried boiling the potatoes for 3-4 min and though they were still good, they didn’t have that ideal separate crispy exterior with a soft interior like they did when I boiled them for two minutes exactly.  I surprisingly had to bake them a lot longer than 20-25 min total to be happy with them, though this is likely because I crowded 4 cut potatoes onto one baking sheet.
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A classic combo: veggie burgers and crispy oven fries

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Burgers and fries.  Quintessential American foodstuff.

Of course, as a vegetarian or vegan, this makes things complicated.  If you’re lucky enough to live by an In-N-Out, you can happily satisfy your vegetarian burger craving by asking for a grilled cheese.  But if you grew up on the reliably delicious MorningStar original Grillers like I did, eventually became a vegan and found out that they weren’t and never had been vegan (insert major sad face), then there really aren’t many readily available similar burgers that are are completely animal-free.

Nothing against bean burgers, they’re all the rage: black bean, black bean and quinoa, black bean and corn, bean this, bean that.  I do enjoy bean burgers!  But sometimes I just want a simple oat-based burger that reminds me of my youth and undergrad days of pre-vegan burger experiences.

So what should I do?

I came up with my own recipe, of course.

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Generally speaking, these burgers are not Celiac friendly.  On the other hand, the ground flax seed and gluten flour that is used hold the burgers together so well that I have no doubt in my mind you could throw these on the grill and they won’t crumble to pieces.  I also wanted to process the ingredients instead of leaving it chunky which translates into burgers that are even less likely to fall apart and more likely to be cohesive.  I’m thinking you could even form them into meatballs to be used in any typical food ball-ish way you can imagine.

I’m proud of these burgers.  They’re freakishly good for being vegan and not coming out of a box.

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Oat, Brown Rice, and Nut Veggie Burgers

Makes 11-12 very large 1/2″ thick burgers

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/3 c ground flax seed & 1 c water, mixed
  • 2.5 c quick oats
  • 1/2 c nutritional yeast (see recipe notes)
  • 5 tsp broth powder or similar (mushroom seasoning, veggie broth powder)
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp sage and/or thyme
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 c toasted nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds – your choice)
  • 2 c cooked brown rice
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 c loosely packed fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 1/8 c (or up to 1/4 c if you want it more salty) Braggs liquid aminos (or soy sauce)
  • Approx 3/4 c dairy-free milk or water
  • Approx 3/4 c gluten flour (aka vital wheat gluten)
  • Non-stick spray (olive oil, Pam, Smart Balance – your choice)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 deg F.  Mix flax seed and water together in a bowl, stir and let sit for later.  Using a food processor, process next 8 ingredients (quick oats to ground black pepper) together until mixed (you don’t want oats to be completely powder) then place it into a large mixing bowl.  Process the nuts and rice until mealy, add to large bowl.  Process onion and parsley together until minced, add to large bowl.

Now add liquid aminos and flax seed/water mix to the large bowl and mix.  Add milk (or water) and gluten flour to bowl, thoroughly mix.  Make sure to do a taste test and adjust it accordingly (see notes).  You want the burger mixture to be holding together: if it seems too dry, add another splash or two or milk; if it’s not holding together, add 1-2 generous spoonfuls of gluten flour.  After mixing for a couple of minutes, you should see the gluten strands starting to form and the mixture will get harder to stir as it starts holding itself together.

Have 2 large baking sheets ready with parchment paper.  Using a burger press (if you luckily have one; otherwise see notes), lightly coat it with spray.  Add 2 generous spoonfuls of burger mix to the press, squeeze down firmly, then place the burger on parchment paper.  You’re aiming for approximately 1/2″ in thickness.  Place baking sheets in the oven for 25 minutes, flip, and cook another 25 minutes.  You know the burgers are done because they won’t be floppy and will feel nice and firm when you flip them.  From this point, you can grill them further, dry fry them in a pan to brown them up even more, eat them as is, or let them cool then store in the freezer in a resealable plastic bag separated by wax paper.

 Recipe Notes:

  • The first time I made this, I completely forgot to put in nutritional yeast which is known for its cheesy-like flavor.  If you don’t have it, don’t worry about it!
  • It’s really easy to toast nuts on your own in a pan or skillet.  Put the nuts in a pan, turn up the heat to medium high or high, and watch it like a hawk and keep flipping and stirring once it warms up because it’s really easy to burn the nuts!  Toasting the nuts gives wonderful extra flavor that is just heady once you process it with the garlic (try to get your nose away from it then, not an easy thing).
  • If you’re trying to stay away from too much fat intake, I know 2 cups of nuts sounds like a lot.  After doing the math, you’re only getting about 1/6th cup of nuts per burger (and that’s if you use a huge burger press like mine) which is not much.  If you make smaller burgers, then it’s even less fat intake per burger!
  • After my second batch that I seasoned much better and was happy with the mixture, some of the saltiness/umami seemed to disappear after baking and cooking.  I like food with a lot of flavor so I personally find it better to lean toward more flavor than less.
  • The biggest tip I can give you?  If you aren’t wowed after tasting the mixture, it’s not going to get any better when it finally reaches fully cooked burger form.  Always taste test and adjust your seasonings as needed!  The quickest and most simple way to add flavor is by using more Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce).
  • A note on dairy-free milks: I always use unsweetened versions.  If you buy dairy-free milk and it says “original” flavor, there is highly likely some sugar in it which is mostly okay if that’s all you have, but it can make some savory recipes taste a little different.  Definitely stay away from “vanilla” flavored milk if you want your recipe to come out with the expected result.
  • If you don’t have a burger press (mine makes them 4.5″ in diameter), then hand shaping them is your best bet and I would aim for 4″ in diameter (you’ll definitely get more than 12 burgers this way).  If you like perfect circles and the mixture is holding together real well, then use a cookie cutter or wide canning jar opening or lid to shape them.
  • The baking time listed is perfect for 1/2″ thick burgers cooking on the typical baking sheet.  If using an air insulated cookie sheet, increase each cooking time by at least 5 minutes (when you flip the first time, you want to see that it browned on the bottom).
  • This hasn’t happened to me in the few batches I’ve done, but if your burgers crumble and fall apart, it’s okay – put them over a salad, a topping on pasta, you name it!

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Now I can’t take credit for the technique I used for making crispy, low-fat, restaurant-like french fries.  The key that gets them crispy on the outside without sticking to each other while baking?

First boiling the potatoes for two minutes before baking.

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photoJack-In-The-Box curly fries flavor variation

Perfectly Crispy Oven Fries

Makes one large baking sheet of fries, just barely enough for 2 hungry people

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium-sized russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • Non-stick spray (optional)
  • Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 deg F.  Place a pot of water on high heat to start warming the water.  Cut potatoes, place them in the pot once it’s reached a rolling boil.  Place the potatoes in the water for 2 minutes then immediately drain and dry with paper towels or a kitchen towel.  (As soon as you put the potatoes in the boiling water, the boiling may temporarily stop but that’s okay, only let them  sit in the pot for 2 minutes.)

Place loosely (ideally not touching) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Lightly spray with non-stick spray (optional).  Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the sheet, bake another 8-10 minutes (this time depends on your sheet and oven temperature so watch your oven for burning fries), flip and turn the fries, lightly spray (optional), and bake in 3-5 minute increments until done (this will depend on how crowded the fries are on the sheet).   Remove from oven, immediately lightly season with salt (or whatever suits your fancy) and eat.

Jack-In-The-Box curly fries variation: I posted a recipe on this!  Check it out.

 Recipe Notes:

  • If you want to make more than 2 medium sized russet potatoes, then use more than one baking sheet.  Take note, though: I’ve found out that not all baking sheets are created equal and one of my sheets will completely burn a few fries at the 20 minute baking mark while the other doesn’t quite get there at the 24 minute mark.
  • Like I said, the baking time depends on your oven, baking sheet, and if the fries are touching or not.  For the first oven I used (not mine), I ended up baking them for 13 min twice and it was perfect (the fries were slightly crowded that time).  Another time, I placed them so they weren’t touching, and one of the pans definitely burned a few fries completely through while the other pan was not quite done.
  • Once I tried boiling the potatoes for 3-4 min and though they were still good, they didn’t have that ideal separate crispy exterior with a soft interior like they did when I boiled them for two minutes exactly.  I surprisingly had to bake them a lot longer than 20-25 min total to be happy with them, though this is likely because I crowded the pan.

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