Simple Roasted Asparagus

Someone a long time ago taught me how to make roasted asparagus. I know it wasn’t a family member (because I taught all of them) and it wasn’t a close friend either (same reason). It was either a TV cooking show or the host of a party I went to once.

Either way, it’s pretty easy. There’s a basic formula for oven temperature and time: if you have skinny asparagus, you decrease them within a range; if they’re fatties, then you increase it.

NOTE: In these pictures, these asparagus were on the skinny side (I do have skinny fingers, too), so I chose to roast them at 425 deg F for 12 minutes.

The other key factor is you have to lay them out flat — no stacking.

Stacking veggies = steamed veggies = no yummy roasted bits.

Lastly, while you can use aluminum foil, parchment paper is my best oven friend in the kitchen. Seriously, food doesn’t stick to it. I can’t even remember the last time I used foil in the oven!

Simple Roasted Asparagus

Serving size varies on the amount of asparagus you have (my husband and I can easily polish off a 2+ pound bag, so use your best judgement but don’t judge us)

INGREDIENTS:

  • Asparagus, 1-2 bunches (whatever fits on a single roasting pan)
  • Olive oil, the teeniest spray
  • Salt, the lightest sprinkling
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Garlic powder, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 425-450 deg F. (See notes for temperature and time tips.) Place parchment paper on a roasting pan.

Wash and trim the woody ends of the asparagus then lightly roll them dry with a towel or paper towels. Transfer the asparagus to the roasting pan so they’re in a single layer. Very lightly spray them with olive oil (or other cooking oil) and top with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Use a clean hand to gently roll the asparagus to spread the oil and coat them with the seasonings.

When the oven temperature has been reached, place the asparagus into the oven for 10-15 minutes (depending on their thickness). When the time has elapsed, pull the pan out and check for doneness with a fork. If roasted to your liking (i.e. if you spear or can cut them with general ease using a fork), immediately remove them from the roasting pan to stop them from cooking; if not, then let them sit on the pan for 2-3 minutes.

Serve immediately. If you’re feeling generous, share them with others and try to keep yourself from eating them all in one sitting.

Recipe Notes:

  • We usually roast an entire bag of asparagus from Costco (just over 2 pounds) at once. However much you use, they have to be lying flat in a pan, not stacked.
  • Have you ever tried to bite into a cooked-yet-woody part of an asparagus? No? Well, it’s gross. I trim my asparagus by holding both ends and bending the lower part of the stem until it snaps at the natural end of the woody part. True, it takes a little time to do and, yes, at the end you say “my, that’s a lot of asparagus wasted,” but you won’t have any gross experiences.
  • How do I dry the asparagus? More often than not, I lay a paper towel on the parchment paper, dump the wet asparagus on it, roll it in the paper towel until it’s mostly dry, then roll the asparagus off it right onto the parchment paper and pan.
  • I really mean it when I say “the teeniest spray” of olive oil. While the asparagus will roast fine without it and I normally don’t cook with added oil, the only reason I use it is so the seasonings lightly stick.
  • While we’re at it, you barely need any salt. The flavor of the asparagus is king here! No need to drown it in salt.
  • When I’m feeling fancy, I’ll mince a couple cloves of garlic and use that instead of garlic powder. Sometimes I’ll put the smallest dusting of cayenne pepper, too, or roasted red pepper flakes. I’ve tried dressing this up with more or fancy seasonings but the asparagus really shines best when it’s kept simple.
  • Time and temperature to use. You should roast asparagus at 425-450 deg F for 10-15 minutes. Like I mentioned earlier, the photos are of skinny asparagus that I cooked at 425 deg F for 12 minutes. When they’re the really big fat ones, I definitely cook it at 450 deg F for 15 minutes. It tends to be more difficult to not overcook the skinny ones. As soon as you’re done roasting the asparagus, test with a fork for doneness and, if perfect, then pull them off the hot pan immediately so they don’t over cook. Simply pull the entire parchment paper off onto the counter and you’re done!

 

Cowboy Caviar

Pardon the unglamorous photos, but we haven’t made this recipe in *years* so we immediately devoured it without elegance in mind.
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When I was an undergrad, I occasionally visited one of my good friend’s homes. At one of the visits, her mom made cowboy caviar and I fell in love. I copied the recipe, brought it back to my family, and it was a “thing” in our house for a while.

10 to 15 years later, I no longer have the recipe — but my friend still did! She immediately emailed it to me when I asked her about it. It took a few weeks (months?) before I finally got around to making it, but man, it’s still as good as I remember it.

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Cowboy Caviar

Serves 6 to 8 people as a side, great to bring to a party

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 15-ounce can of black beans OR black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 11-ounce can of corn, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 firm and ripe avocados, cut into cubes
  • 2/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar OR lime juice, to taste (see recipe notes)
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce (see recipe notes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, to taste
  • Ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Put all ingredients in a large bowl, gently mix to coat. Add more seasonings as needed. Eat as-is or serve with corn chips!

 

Recipe Notes:

  • Instead of canned, I happened to use fresh corn this time: sliced it off the cob, put it in cold water, and drained it after it reached a boil.
  • I’ve used more than one clove of garlic before and have been happy with the results. I have to keep in mind: is it safe to bring to work for lunch?
  • The original recipe calls for red wine vinegar, but any sort of liquid acid will work reasonably well. (Maybe stay away from apple cider vinegar!)
  • For the hot sauce, the original recipe says the “Taco Bell” version, but I simply grab my trusty bottle of Sriracha and run with that. (Two teaspoons didn’t seem to work for me — I like a little comfy heat — so I probably added closer to three total.)
  • Lastly, the recipe said to throw in a little oil of some sort, but it doesn’t suffer whatsoever without it.

Vegetarian soto mie, Indonesian comfort food

In a very generic sense, consider soto ayam (say: “SO-tow AYE-am”) an Indonesian chicken noodle soup. But better than the “American” version. And vegan. And no-added oil. And (shh) less complex to make than Vietnamese pho.

Of course, since my version has no chicken, I have to call it soto mie (i.e. noodle soup; say: “SO-tow MEE-eh”).

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I grew up eating this soup from a packet and had a hankering for it a month or so ago. I have some of the same brand Indofood packets that I could use to make it again…but after reading the ingredients on the back (oil, shrimp paste, seasoning enhancers, etc), I decided I could figure it out myself and make my own version. Again, it might not be exactly the same as what an Indonesian in Indonesia may do, but I was very pleased at how much it reminded me of the versions I had during my childhood!

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In my no-added-oil and vegan version, the soup base (aka “bumbu”) is flavored by a fresh paste of ginger, galangal, onion, lots of garlic, with turmeric for color, and coriander and fresh black pepper. Then you sauté it with kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass and this amazing scent fills your kitchen, your household. After that, you can have it as a clear broth or, if you’re feeling indulgent, replace some of this with coconut milk. Instead of chicken, I actually use chickpeas (store brand chickpeas tend to have a lot of harder ones in it). Also, traditionally this dish is served with sliced boiled eggs and krupuk (deep fried fish “crackers”) but I replaced this with many other fresh condiments and, if you want to live on the edge, plain potato chips. (Trust me on the latter.) Lastly, add a little sour element with a squeeze of lime!

The hardest ingredients to get in a rural area are the galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass. If you can’t find the galangal, the ginger alone will work good enough (especially if you’ve never had this dish before — you probably won’t know the difference). The kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass are crucial, in my opinion!  Don’t ever think about leaving them out.

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Soto Mie, Indonesian “Chicken” Noodle Soup

Serves 4 in very large bowls, otherwise 6 satisfying servings

INGREDIENTS:

Bumbu/Spice Paste:

  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely sectioned
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of galangal, peeled and coarsely sectioned (OR 1 teaspoon powder)
  • 1 medium sized onion (see notes)
  • 5-10 garlic cloves (roughly 1/3 cup), peeled and roughly smashed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander (or similar amount of seeds, crushed and ground)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Soup Base:

  • 1-2 lemongrass stalks, cut on the bias in 2-3″ long sections
  • 4-6 kaffir lime leaves
  • Oil as needed (optional)
  • 8-10 cups of water or vegetable broth
    • If feeling rich, you can replace up to half of this with canned coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice, add more to taste after this (rebalance it with more salt if needed)

Accompaniments: (* = key items, in my opinion)

  • Glass rice or bean noodles (aka vermicelli), cooked*
  • Chickpeas*
  • Bean sprouts
  • Bok choy, cleaned and sliced
  • Mushrooms, tofu, tempe, seitan (optional)
  • Green, red, and/or Napa cabbage, thinly shredded* (at least one!)
  • Celery, thinly sliced*
  • Green onion, chopped*
  • Plain potato chips*
  • Lime wedges*
  • Bawang goreng (fried shallots)
  • Sriracha or Sambal Oelek (or similar asian chili sauce)

DIRECTIONS:

Add all the bumbu/spice paste ingredients to a food processor or blender and add a splash of water. Process until it becomes a somewhat runny paste, adding more water as needed.  Place the spice paste into the soup pot and add the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves (and optional oil); stir fry on medium-high to high heat with small splashes of water  as needed (for oil-free cooking) until the kaffir lime leaves change from their fresh and bright green to a “cooked” color.

Add the water/broth, sugar, and salt to the soup pot; let simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the heat to as low as possible and add the lime juice. Taste and add salt or more lime juice as needed. (Careful with the lime juice!) You can remove the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves (they’re not for eating) now or later after serving.

Place any chosen accompaniments in a bowl and add the hot soup broth to it. Top with further accompaniments as wanted.  (Don’t forget the hot sauce!)

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Recipe Notes:

  • Try to get your hands on galangal (sometimes, called Thai ginger). If not fresh, I’m pretty sure you can get away with powder if you can find it. If you can’t find any version of it though, it’ll still be tasty.
  • I think more of the traditional recipes call for shallots and I’ve used red onions as a substitute in the past. Once I used too much of the red onion and (since I don’t strain the broth like others may do) it turned the broth color a little grey. If you can, use a white or yellow onion for esthetics’ sake.
  • If you get your hands on a little fresh turmeric root, do it! I did this once with approximately half a thumb size, about a 1″ cube.
  • I don’t recall having this soup with coconut milk but I’ve seen it and can’t imagine it’d be bad. I’ve simply always had it with the clear broth and love it that way!
  • In addition to the obvious glass noodles and chickpeas, I try to aim for at minimum four fresh additives every time. Most recently, we made it with: napa cabbage, red cabbage, bean sprouts, and green onions!
  • If you can’t find those glass-like noodles, any kind of thin rice noodle will work.

Tom Yum Soup, a Thai classic

I miss Thai food. Growing up in Southern California, really good Thai restaurants are everywhere. After a while, you get super spoiled being able to access excellent ethnic food whenever you want.

And then I moved to rural Montana. Oh well, gotta learn how to make Thai food!

After getting my hands on some decent looking lemongrass stalks recently, I decided I really needed to find a Thai tom yum (sweet and sour) soup recipe to use it in. Thus, a hearty thank you to the Food Network for providing the recipe for Araya’s Place Tom Yum Soup which is the closest and fastest I’ve ever gotten to making this dish.

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Minus the lemongrass, there are two other key seasoning ingredients you need:

  • Kaffir lime leaves? Check. Thanks to the stash in my freezer, I have this seasoning on hand.
  • Fresh galangal slices? Well… While I can usually find it at the fancy grocery store in the “big city” more than an hour away, it has a large price tag. While I know ginger is no where near close to a replacement for galangal, I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy the latter! So if you’re a Thai person or have had a lot of access to excellent Thai food, go ahead and slap my wrist. If you haven’t had much Thai food, you won’t know the difference by buying ginger and, frankly, it still tastes pretty doggone good.

Okay — my soap box moment is over.

If you can get your hands on these three key ingredients — lemongrass, keffir lime leaves, and galangal (*ahemorginger*) — make this soup! I was blown away how quickly and easy it comes together. Oh yes, and also I was quite impressed how the seasonings and saltiness where spot on. Usually I have to add more soy sauce or broth powder to be happy about something but the recipe has been perfectly seasoned every time I’ve made it since I discovered it!

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Araya’s Tom Yum Soup

Recipe courtesy of Araya’s Place/Food Network, slight adaptations to original recipe, feeds 2 really hungry people as a main course, feeds 4 as small side soups

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups vegetable broth OR 3 cups water with needed broth seasoning
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 inch piece of unpeeled ginger OR galangal, cut 3 slices vertically or on the diagonal as much as possible
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, cut 3 slices on the diagonal as much as possible
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • Half a package of tofu (approximately half of a usual 12-14 ounce package), cubed, optional
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced
  • 1/3 medium-sized onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce OR Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
  • Juice from 1 lime OR 1-2 tablespoons bottled lime juice, to taste
  • Sriracha to taste OR 10 Thai chili peppers, pounded with the edge of a knife or cooking mallet to release the flavor
  • Scant 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • Scant 1/4 cup roughly chopped green onions

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable broth to a boil. Once boiling, add the lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass and boil for 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms, tofu, tomato, onion, soy sauce, lime juice, and Sriracha/Thai chili peppers and boil for another 5 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro and green onions.

NOTE: You don’t eat the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, or ginger! If you want to be nice, pull them out before serving; otherwise, pull them out or avoid them while eating.

Recipe Notes:

  • Once in a while, I actually have vegetable broth on hand. More often than not, I use mushroom seasoning (I like the kind made by Po Lo Ku Trading the most) or some sort of vegetable broth powder/seasoning with water.
  • As I mentioned above, galangal and ginger are not the same thing and a traditionalist would be so mad at me for suggesting substitution with ginger! On the other hand, if you can’t find galangal, then ginger will have to do. As Wikipedia says, “While ginger tastes a little like galangal, most cooks who use both rhizomes would never substitute one for the other and expect the same flavor.”
  • When it comes to the main ingredients that provide the bulk to the soup (i.e. mushrooms and tofu), you’re aiming for roughly 2 cups total. Sometimes when we’ve ordered tom yum soup, we’ve asked for more vegetables and they’ll be creative and put in all sorts of things: baby corn, carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, bok choy, etc. Use your imagination! I would recommend limiting it to 2-2.5 cups total otherwise trying to cook this soup will be similar to trying to roll up an overstuffed burrito.
  • We have cherry tomatoes on hand more than the usual sized tomatoes. I grab a handful and cut them in halves or thirds.
  • We bought a mandoline some time ago and it comes in super handy for thinly slicing onions! If you don’t have a mandoline, you’ll be fine, just cut them as thin carefully.
  • Obviously fresh lime juice is best, although bottled lime juice is a reasonable substitute. If you have bottled juice, I’d start with 1 tablespoon and work your way up from there to taste.
  • Okay, I truly NEVER have Thai chili peppers here…so any kind of Asian-like added heat works fine! Sriracha is my asian hot sauce of choice and I was pleasantly surprised. I probably use about a 1/2 tablespoon.

Scrambled Tofu

I can’t say that I completely miss eggs but I do sometimes miss the simplicity they bring to cooking and baking. Need leavening or binding? Use and egg. Need a nice golden wash for your pastry? Use an egg. Whether a dish is sweet or savory, you can use an egg.

When it comes to vegan cooking, there are all sorts of various egg substitutes to use but it completely depends on what you’re making.

But when it comes to a morning scramble? Extra firm tofu is still the workhorse for this substitute.

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I generally try to use as little tofu as possible for various reasons — I’ve used lightly mashed canned chickpeas as a good and very filling sub for many tofu-heavy recipes — but sometimes you want a good ol’ scramble so there you go. I stumbled on Isa’s Scrambled Tofu recipe years ago, tried it, loved it, and always come back to it.
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If you’re cooking with no oil, it’s quite doable with a decent non-stick pan at the least, cast iron skillet at the most. Since the tofu has so much water, you really want to let it dry out some. As it does this, that’s when the little browned bits will show up! (See above photo.) If you find your tofu sticking to the pan, add a small dash of water to the hot pan and, as it bubbles, you’ll be able to use your spatula to release any sticking bits.

After recently going to Chipotle and trying their tofu option “Sofritas”, I noticed that it almost had the texture of ground beef after they crumbled it and allowed a lot of the water to evaporate. I used to try keeping my scrambled tofu pieces bigger (see the picture at Isa’s site) but I realized I didn’t care that much as time went on!

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A tofu scramble is good by itself but always goes best with something else: potatoes and wrapped in the tortilla for a breakfast burrito, or put it on toast with salsa, etc. I’ve been meaning to get black salt (though it appears pink-grayish) aka kala namak for it’s “eggy” sulfur taste. When you use it in egg dishes (tofu scrambles, hollandaise sauce), it makes it taste like eggs. I finally dove in and ordered some — can’t wait for it to arrive later this week to try!

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Scrambled Tofu

Original recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz with adaptations, easily serves 2-4 average people depending on how many extras you add in

INGREDIENTS:

  • Spice Blend
    • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (crushed with your fingers) or scant 1 teaspoon ground thyme
    • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
    • 1 teaspoon salt (OR 3/4 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon kala namak black salt)
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
    • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • Fresh black pepper, to taste (optional)
  • Additions: (optional)
    • Onion, finely chopped (add before or with tofu)
    • Bell peppers (add before or with tofu)
    • Mushrooms (add with tofu)
    • Carrots (grate and add after spice blend)
    • Olives (add at end after nutritional yeast)
    • Spinach (add at end after nutritional yeast)

DIRECTIONS:

First stir the spice blend together in a small cup. Add water and mix. Set aside.

Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat. Saute the onion in a little bit of water (barely any) until just starting to cook. Break the tofu apart into bite sized pieces and saute with the onions for about 10 minutes. Get under the tofu when you are stirring, scrape the bottom and don’t let it stick to the pan, that is where the good, crispy stuff is. (If cooking oil-free, add just a little water to the hot pan help the tofu release.) The tofu should get browned on at least one side, but you don’t need to be too precise about it. The water should cook out of it and not collect too much at the bottom of the ban. If that is happening, turn the heat up and let the water evaporate.

Add the spice blend and mix to incorporate. Add the nutritional yeast and fresh black pepper. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cook for about 5 more minutes. Serve warm.

Recipe Notes:

  • Isa loves cumin and thyme! Thankfully I love both of these seasonings, too. They go together better than you’d expect. If you’re not a big fan of either, you can use less or definitely swap them out with someone different altogether.
  • Isa’s recipe originally calls for fresh garlic but I hardly do that. I tend to substitute it with garlic powder that I put in the spice blend — when I remember.
  • The nutritional yeast is a nice touch with the tofu scramble! How can one go wrong using the wonderful fairy dust of vegans??
  • I usually add in mushrooms, onions, and spinach. Sometimes we’ll lightly toss in freshly cut tomatoes at the very end, but we usually prefer adding them on top separately.

Lemony Red Lentil Soup

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For starters, this is not my recipe.  Thanks to Melissa Clark from the New York Times who originally described this soup in 2008, this recipe has been floating around Facebook in a more recent post on my feed.  Multiple people have shared it and one of our team members who is currently trying a vegan lifestyle made it and told me I should give it a go.

Since I fell in love with Ethiopian yemisir wat a few years ago, I tend to associate red lentils more with berbere-like spices.  I wouldn’t have thought to use tomato paste, cumin, lemon, and cilantro if it wasn’t for this recipe.

As luck would have it, I had all the ingredients on hand this weekend. I personally wouldn’t use the words “divine” or “mind blowing” for it, but rather: comforting, soothing, light, homey, tasteful.

Worth making.

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Lemony Red Lentil Soup

By Melissa Clark, adapted for oil-free cooking. Serves 4-6 people.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon salt OR mushroom seasoning, more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne, more to taste
  • 1 quart (or 4 cups) vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

DIRECTIONS:

Using a large nonstick pot, saute the onions first then add the garlic during the last minute. For oil-free cooking, add small amounts of water as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne and allow to saute for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the broth, water, lentils, and carrot.  After bringing to a boil, drop the heat down to a simmer and partially cover. Cook for an additional 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft and broken down. Taste and add more salt (or mushroom seasoning) as needed.

Using an immersion blender or a food processor, blend half the soup and return it back to the pot. You want the soup to still have some texture – don’t blend it to a puree. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro. If wanted, top with extra chopped cilantro before serving.

Recipe Notes:

  • On the recipe’s comments, someone said something about grating the carrot.  I thought about doing that but changed my mind at the last minute. I imagine it would work lovely, too.
  • This is a simple soup that would serve fine as a backdrop for multiple variations: add diced potatoes, mushrooms, canned chopped tomatoes, barley, bulgur wheat (as the Melissa’s original post describes), spinach, etc.  Of course, it’s always nice to make the original recipe before you change it too much and then say you don’t like how it turned out!

Special K Loaf, vegan

Okay, so this is totally something that goes around in Seventh-Day Adventist circles. Many of us wax poetic about the savoriness and addictive taste of it. Often people go back for seconds at potlucks. Some (ahem) have been known to eat it cold from the fridge.

But what the heck is Special K Loaf?

Basically a vegetarian version of meatloaf but made with cereal, cottage cheese, and eggs.  I know, I know, if you haven’t been in this culture, it’s totally weird sounding but surprisingly good.  Someday do a search for #specialkloaf on whatever social network you belong to and see what people say. (To sum it up, I’ve never heard anyone say it tastes bad!)

The original version, even though vegetarian, is definitely not health food. After turning vegan, I haven’t had any in a long time until a friend gave me a recipe for a vegan version that a family friend of hers came up with.  We made it – and it was good.

I’ve missed you, Special K Loaf.  I’m so happy to be able to eat you again.

No fancy pictures here, but another “brown” recipe totally worth making for potlucks or two people to eat throughout the week for lunch.

Special K Loaf, vegan

Adapted for oil-free cooking, serves 10+ people or 6 really hungry ones

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 cup or approximately 20 ounces mushrooms, diced or sliced
  • 2 cups cooked oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup dairy-free milk
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Aminos
  • 1 flax seed “egg” = 3 tablespoons water + 1 tablespoon ground flax seed mixed together
  • 1 14-ounce container of tofu, drained and crumbled
  • 1 1/2 cup walnuts and/or pecans, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon vegan chicken or vegetable broth seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons salt OR mushroom seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons vegan beef broth seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 6 cups plain Special K cereal (ahhh, not technically vegan! No fear, you can use) corn flakes

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Saute onion and mushrooms. For oil-free cooking, use a nonstick pan and add a little water while sautéing as needed to prevent vegetables from sticking. When done, set aside.

Mix oatmeal with milk, add sautéed onions and mushrooms. Add all remaining ingredients and mix.

Place mixture in an ungreased 9″ x 13″ casserole pan, smooth the surface. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour, then remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes.  You can serve it immediately or wait for it to cool.  Freezes well if needed.

Recipe Notes:

  • If you don’t want to dirty another dish, use raw onions and uncooked mushrooms! I personally haven’t tried it but it’s a very forgiving dish and can’t see this being a problem.
  • The amount of mushrooms is completely flexible.  I’ve used an entire container of mushrooms from Costco before (24 ounces).  If you can only find 8 ounces, then go for it.
  • As for the oatmeal, I’ve used all kinds: quick oats, steel cut oats, etc. It always tastes good whatever I’ve used!
  • For the non-salty seasonings (i.e. not the broth seasonings), you’re welcome to add more if you’d like. No exact measurements needed here.
  • I’ve always been generous with the “6 cups Special K corn flakes cereal” and, if you haven’t figured it out already, it turns out just fine.
  • After mixing all the ingredients together, make sure you taste it!  It’ll boil down to this: does it need more salt?  At this point, soy sauce (or Braggs Liquid Aminos) will be easier to blend into the mixture than plain salt.  If it’s too salty, then add more Special K corn flakes cereal.
  • Since finding out Special K technically isn’t vegan, as you saw above, you can use plain (unsweetened) corn flakes (yes, there’s sugar content but you can’t really tell). The texture is a little different but tastes just as good.

Ethiopian lentil stew: yemisir wat

Between my third and final fourth year of dental school, I decided to sign up for a dental mission trip to Ethiopia that would take place during one of our longest school breaks.  I managed to convince two other classmates to come; additionally, two dental hygiene students with a sense of adventure and that restless travel bug condition had signed up, too.

Hello to Ethiopia and it’s wonderful cuisine. (Not to mention the coffee – but I’ll save that for another time.)

yemisirwat1hAfter spending three weeks there and having experienced traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, traditional food, injera bread, and wats, I realized it was a completely new culinary world I knew nothing about and was one I needed to figure out how to have again when I got home. Living in rural Montana makes it kind of hard to find an Ethiopian restaurant, but I managed to drag my husband and cousins to one in a slightly sketchy part of Atlanta, GA, and we were all blown away.

The flavors!  The spice!  (Oh, and the coffee.)

yemisirwat2vI found out that the primary seasoning ingredient used the most in Ethiopian cooking is a spice blend called berbere (say: BUR-bur-ree). You can consider berbere like the many different kinds of dry curry spice mix you kind find in stores: the specific seasoning mix really varies per person, company, or household that makes it.

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I eventually got my hands on some bulk berbere that I personally liked (you can see it here).  Most Ethiopian wats (aka stews or curries) are meat-based, but there are many dishes that can be found made with vegetables or legumes.  After searching online, I ran into a newspaper story that featured an Ethiopian vegetarian feast and immediately was inspired.

I decided to make yemisir wat (aka misir wat). In most of these pictures, I used a different kind of lentil instead of the usual red lentil.  I still prefer red lentils because they break down and turn into a lovely mash (as unappetizing as that word sounds, it works well). There’s no way to get or easily make injera bread for this wat, so a bed of warm rice it is.

We also like like to add more color to our legume meals, so you can see some of the following in the pictures: red cabbage, steamed swiss chard, green onions.yemisirwat5h

Yemisir Wat

Serves approximately 6 people as a main course with another starch

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1-1.5 onions (any type), minced
  • 2-4 garlic cloves minced
  • Thumb-sized amount of ginger, grated
  • 0.5-1 tablespoons berbere (adjust later, depends on how spicy your berbere mix is)
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • Salt/Braggs Liquid Aminos/soy sauce, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Using a medium sized pot or skillet with a lid to be used later, saute onions till almost translucent, then add the garlic and ginger and saute another 1-2 minutes more till fragrant. Add the lentils and water to the pot and cover.  Bring to a boil, then drop the temperature so the liquid is at a simmer.  Let cook for 30 minutes or till the red lentils are broken up, whichever comes first.  Add your choice of saltiness (salt, Braggs, or soy sauce) to taste, and add more berbere as needed.

This is not as traditional, but I’ve added the following before for variety: small diced potatoes, sliced/diced mushrooms, canned coconut milk to taste.

Recipe Notes:

  • I’ve made this before without the ginger (couldn’t find it in the store!) and it tasted just fine.
  • The first kind of berbere mix was The Silk Road brand and I found it quite hot! While I normally like things spicy-hot, it was a bit much so but with not as much flavor as I preferred. My point is that every berbere mix is different and I tried to give a starting amount in the ingredient list with the tip to taste and add more later as needed!
  • I tend to use Braggs Liquid Aminos the most. When I was somewhere else and didn’t have access to it, soy sauce worked quite well. I imagine salt would work, too, but it tends to lack that final umami taste that the former two options can give to foods.
  • Again, I prefer red lentils because they break up into a nice mash. You’re welcome to try other lentils, but don’t expect them to fall apart.

Easy Spanish Rice

Over a decade ago when I was working as an x-ray technologist at a large hospital in southern California, a co-worker told me how she made Spanish rice.  I have always remembered the simple ratios for the recipe’s backbone that she told me: approximately 1 can of tomato sauce, 2 cups of rice, 4 cups of broth.

Another co-worker made Spanish rice that I tasted and I remember thinking it was *the best* I’d ever tasted before – and this is from someone who grew up in southern California and was quite familiar with the tastes of authentic Hispanic flavors.  Her particular secret?  Using chicken broth instead of water. spanishrice1h With these pieces of recipe advice in mind, I tried making Spanish rice for the first time ever myself back then.  Naturally, it took a few batches to be satisfied with the final result.  During the process, I learned:

  • You really need to brown the rice, not just think it’s a little brown
  • It’s okay to make something without exact measurements
  • I finally figured out how to not burn the bottom of the rice on the stove

Since becoming vegan at home and deciding to cook without oil or with as little as possible, my original recipe for Spanish rice has morphed a bit to accommodate our eating habits.  I used to use a lot of olive oil during the browning of the rice; now I use none at all or just the teeniest drizzle.  I used to use a vegetarian broth mix (McKay’s Chicken Seasoning) but after learning it’s not vegan (darn that milk whey), I’ve switched over to using a combination of mushroom seasoning and vegetable broth seasoning. spanishrice2vmaybe spanishrice3h Unfortunately, red is a notoriously hard color to photograph, hence these pictures don’t look that nice.  Considering that I don’t have exact measurements for the spices here, it may take a couple of tries to get the flavor to your taste.  But heck, when you do get it right, it’s an easy meal made when you also open up a can of black beans, cut up some lettuce, and eat it all mishmashed together with salsa and chips. spanishrice4h

Easy Spanish Rice

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups of jasmine rice (see notes)
  • Oil, optional
  • 1 medium sized onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (OR 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • Ground cumin
  • Cayenne
  • Broth powder/seasoning
  • 1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 4-ounce can of mild or hot diced chilies, drained (optional)
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth (OR vegan chicken-flavored broth)

DIRECTIONS:

Using a wide pan or skillet on medium high-high heat, place the rice inside (and a small drizzle of oil, if wanted) and keep moving it around every 20-30 seconds or so until it’s uncomfortably browned.  Add in the onion, garlic; stir it into the rice so it starts the sautéing process.  Add a few light shakes of cumin, even less of cayenne, and a decent amount of extra broth powder (this is completely eyeballed) to the rice as it’s further browning the onions and garlic.  Keep stirring until the onion and garlic is sautéed. Add the tomato sauce, chilies if using, and broth to pan and mix.  Cover the pan and bring to a simmer for 20-25 minutes.

At the end of that time, peek under the lid and check if the rice appears to be done; if not, replace lid and leave on low for another 5 minutes.  After that, turn the heat off and let the pan sit covered for an additional 5 minutes before taking the lid off and fluffing the rice.  If the rice seems still a little wet, keep the lid off and leave the heat on low for another 5 minutes.  I know this is a lot of “5 minutes” but it works, promise!

Recipe Notes:

  • I grew up on jasmine rice and so I always use jasmine rice for anything that calls for “white rice.”  I’m sure you can use another white rice, as long as it’s not a “quick cooking” type (i.e. Uncle Ben’s brand).
  • I tend to only use red onions these days for the amount of antioxidants they have versus what can be found in white or yellow onions.  In my opinion, it doesn’t seem to affect the taste.
  • I’ve found that using actual liquid broth (i.e. canned or boxed vegetable broth) results in the best final flavor.  If I only have powdered broth that needs to be mixed myself, I add water in the amount of liquid called for and then also stir in broth powder that’s needed for that amount of liquid.
  • When browning the rice, keep a close eye on it – it can burn quick!  It’ll take a while for the pan to get up to the right heat, but once it does, keep moving things around until the rice is (in your opinion) uncomfortably brown.  At that point you’ll add in the spices and onions and it’ll brown even more.  Don’t be afraid of browning the rice too much – that’s where all the nutty good flavor comes from.  Of course, there is a distinct difference between browning rice and burning it altogether!

Cauliflower Fettuccine Alfredo

I know, cauliflower and fettuccine in the same title just doesn’t sound possible, let alone good.

It surprisingly is!

I can’t take any sort of credit whatsoever for this recipe.  But I love it, Angela Liddon has it posted online for free, so I want to have it here on my little blog as a reminder of what I enjoy making and eating:

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One of our staff told my husband and I how she tried making this recipe and was floored over it.  She basically had us pinkie-swear that we’d make it as soon as possible.

So we did.

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We decided to top it with simply steamed zucchini (roasted would’ve been more decadent and ideal if I had planned accordingly) and arugula with cucumbers on the side.  Also, since we’ve been on a major antioxidant and phytonutrient kick and found out that spices are an excellent source of them, we strayed from the traditional flavors a tad and sprinkled on oregano and crushed red pepper.

I know cauliflower has a very distinct and, oh, strong aroma when cooked, but you really don’t notice it or it doesn’t bother you when eating.  If you reheat this dish the next day in the microwave, you’ll get a good whiff of that cauliflower smell, but the dish still tastes as good and is as creamy as it was the day before!

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Cauliflower Fettuccine Alfredo

Slight adaptations from Angela Liddon’s recipe, serves 4 easily

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 heaping cups cauliflower florets (1 small to medium cauliflower head)
  • 2 medium to large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened and unflavored non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or 1 scant tablespoon of bottled lemon juice concentrate)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon pepper, to taste
  • Fettuccine or pasta shape of your choice (we used a 13.25 ounce box of rotini here)
  • Minced fresh parsley or other herb for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Add cauliflower florets in a large pot and cover with water, bring to a low boil. Once boiling, cook for another 3-7 minutes until fork tender then drain.  Meanwhile, use a small amount of water to sauté the minced garlic over low heat for 4-5 minutes until softened and fragrant, but not browned.

In a high speed blender (preferably Vitamix or Blentec), add the cooked and drained cauliflower, sautéed garlic, milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Blend until a super smooth sauce forms, don’t be afraid to let it run for while until the texture is right. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add your desired amount of pasta and boil for the time instructed on the package, then drain.  Add the cauliflower sauce into the same pot and add the drained pasta back into it. Heat over low-medium until heated enough to your liking. Salt again to taste (the pasta dilutes the flavor).  Serve with fresh minced parsley and black pepper. Feel free to add in your favorite sautéed or roasted vegetables.

Recipe Notes:

  • Sometimes we don’t even sauté the garlic, but I’ll cut the amount called for in half and throw the single garlic clove straight in the blender fresh.  As you’re aware, sometimes some garlic can be SUPER strong but (1) that’s hardly ever the case unless you’re using fresh garlic from Romania (it was spicy!) and (2) we love garlic anyway.
  • Like mentioned in the ingredients, we usually boil an entire box (13.25 ounces) of pasta and there is more than enough sauce in this recipe to cover all of it more than adequately.
  • The first time I made this, I didn’t salt it enough at the very end before serving.  It was good, but it hadn’t quite reached that peak amount of flavor due to the slight lack of salt.  Lesson learned again: always, always, always taste and season accordingly when you’re cooking.