Vegan Indonesian Opor Ayam

You could say that opor ayam is an Indonesian dish of braised chicken in the coconut curry sauce. (Ayam, say AYE-am = chicken.) When I’m trying to simplify the description, I tell people that it’s an Indonesian curry dish.

I was born and raised in the States, so I grew up eating opor ayam only at Indonesian gatherings, like weddings and potlucks. I’m sure I had it during one of my handful of visits to Indonesia, of course. My mom would occasionally make it, but I’m almost positive she always used a flavor packet instead of making it from scratch.

Fast forward to living in rural Montana. I have a few of these same flavor packets on hand, but my mind crinkles its nose when it reads through the ingredient list full of all sorts of unnatural things. Earlier this year, I had a real hankering to make some and ended up scouring the internet for a recipe that sounded right to me. There are many, many recipes out there for opor ayam but I finally came across one that I liked.

I always feel a bit ridiculous when I put the words “vegan” and “ayam (chicken)” in the same sentence. Just like with another Indonesian chicken dish that I satisfyingly “veganized”, I’m sure you’re wondering how I did the same to this one. Growing up, the opor ayam that I had always included potatoes — so, okay, that’s easy, let’s put in more potatoes. Also, curry dishes always go well with tofu since it soaks up flavor like it’s nobody’s business. (Score if you can get your hands on freshly fried tofu at an Asian market. I personally hate frying tofu so I hardly ever do.) If I have tempeh on hand (which is rare), I include it. To make it more hearty and a stick-to-your-ribs kind of dish, I include canned chickpeas. (Bonus: now you have leftover aquafaba from which to make all sorts of vegan delicacies and savory foods!)

Like with a lot of Indonesian recipes, there are some key players that simply cannot be substituted: lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, and galangal. If you’ve never had it before, you probably can get away with making opor without the galangal, although I can’t imagine the dish without it. There are a few other items that a traditional Indonesian would chastise me for leaving out (like candlenut, Indonesian bay leaf, oil) but the dish doesn’t suffer drastically without them, not to mention that you can’t easily find some of them here.

I have made all sorts of different people try this dish — from those who already love Asian dishes to those who had never heard of curry before — and all of them thought it was tasty. If you can get your hands on the ingredients, this is worth making!

Vegan Opor Ayam, an Indonesian curry

4 very large servings, easily 6 servings since it’s so hearty, adapted from Dana’s Kitchen

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1.5 inch galangal, (mostly) peeled and bruised
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and bruised
  • 2-3 stalks of fresh lemongrass, bruised
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, diced into 3/4 to 1 inch cubes
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (about 400 grams)
  • 2 cans (or about 28 ounces or 800 mL) of coconut milk
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 package (or about 400 grams) of tofu, drained and cubed
  • OPTIONAL: Bawang goreng (fried shallots)
  • OPTIONAL: Green onions or scallions, finely sliced

Bumbu/Spice Paste:

  • 1 whole onion, cut into chunks
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed or roughly chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon tumeric powder (or 1 inch fresh tumeric, peeled)
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin

DIRECTIONS:

Add all the bumbu/spice paste ingredients to a food processor with a splash of water. Process until it becomes a somewhat runny paste, adding more water as needed. Place the spice paste into a large soup pot and add the galangal, ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves; 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, about 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes, carrot, chickpeas, coconut milk, water, salt, sugar, and pepper. Gently stir and raise the heat to reach a boil, then quickly bring it down to a simmer. Cover with a lid but leave it cracked so the liquid can reduce. Simmer until the potatoes are tender and cooked through, about 15 minutes. 5 minutes before this, add the cubed tofu; if not fried, gently turn it into the liquid so it can pick up the flavors.

At the point when the potatoes are cooked, the liquid shouldn’t be as runny as before. If it still is, take the lid completely off and let moderately simmer in 5 minute increments till you’re satisfied with the reduced liquid consistency. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.

Before serving, you may remove the galangal, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass, or you can leave them to continue seasoning the dish. Serve with cooked rice, topped with bawang goreng and/or green onions.

Recipe Notes:

  • The original recipe calls for 1 kilogram of chicken. This is easy enough to replace with chickpeas and tofu! If you don’t like the former or latter, then bulk up on the potatoes.
  • Whenever a recipe called for “bruising” something, I used to scratch my head wondering what to use, Yes, you can use the flat side of a chef’s knife, but I finally discovered the perfect kitchen item that I hardly use for it’s original purpose: the rolling pin. It’s true, I pretty much only use my rolling pin for bruising vegetables instead of rolling out doughs! Oh, it works so well.
  • There are many different ways to prepare lemongrass for cooking. In rare cases, you can chop it super fine (difficult to do) and incorporate it into the meal. Most of time, I’ve seen and used following three preparations after removing the dried portions of the lemongrass: (1) cut the base into diagonal chunks, (2) cut the entire lemongrass into 3 or 4 long columns then bruise, or, (3) if long enough, bruise the entire lemongrass and tie into a knot. I like to use the latter (it’s pretty!) but any of these work just fine.
  • Thankfully I can find fresh lemongrass when we go to “the big city” for our usual stocking up of supplies. If they’re really skinny, then 3 lemongrass stalks is best; if they’re more plump, then 2 of them is enough.
  • Right after adding the salt, sugar, and pepper, it won’t taste like the final product. It is necessary to let the flavors simmer and meld together. Even after letting it cook a while, I’ve accidentally tasted and salted more before letting the curry reduce further — next thing I knew, the final product was too salty. (Oops!) Make sure to only add the extra salt at the very end when you’re happy with the consistency of the liquid.
  • If you’re using water-packed tofu, it’ll pick up the flavors even better if you drain and gently squeeze the water out. If you haven’t done this before, it’s easy but takes a little forethought! Gently wrap the block of tofu in paper towels or an actual trustworthy towel, place between two flat surfaces (cutting board, wide plate, pot),  put something heavy on top (usually canned food for me), and let it sit for a few minutes at the least. (Side note: if you’re not using the tofu now, you can freeze it for later, whether for frying or not.)
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Melty Cheezy Sauce

We’ve been really busy the past several weeks with traveling, moving business locations, and, concurrent with the latter, generally not being in charge of our own lives! We’ve been eating whatever we can grab when we can grab it, and unfortunately a little bug is going around and my husband caught it.

I thought to myself, that’s it, time for some real food this weekend. So last night we made Lemony Red Lentil Soup and this morning I wanted more than just oatmeal.

Enter Breakfast Nachos topped with a melty “cheezy” sauce.

Simple enough concept: start with chips, substitute meat with potatoes and a tofu scramble, make some salsa, bring out the hot sauce, and top with some sort of cheese. Now, as a whole food plant based vegan, most any kind of cheese sauce is considered a bit “heavy” since it usually involves added fat (even if it’s cashews). When we’re feeling a little decadent, we use a little Daiya cheese that we keep in the freezer. This time, I felt like whizzing up a quick cashew-based cheese sauce that Isa Chandra Moskowitz uses for her breakfast nachos.

I don’t use miso consistently so it sticks out a lot to me when I use it. (It also could be the brand that I have — some are more strong than others.) So I tweaked her cheese sauce slightly and added a little lemon juice instead to reach that necessary acidic tang. Nonetheless, I’m always impressed how much miso can mimic the fermented and nuanced flavors found in cheese.

If you don’t like the word fermented then ignore what I said and just give it a go!

Melty Cheezy Sauce

by Isa Chandra Moskowitz with slight adaptations

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup unroasted cashews
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 scant tablespoons mellow white miso
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon lemon juice, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Throw everything in your blender or food processor and blend till completely smooth. You may have to stop and scrape down the sides several times. Keep in mind that you also may need to give your unit’s motor a break here and there if it takes a while.

Recipe Notes:

  • If you don’t have a high powered blender (Vitamix, Blentec), then you really need to soak your cashews for at least two hours, overnight is better. If you need them asap, make sure you soak them in hot water, or you could bring them to a boil and let simmer for as short as you dare.
  • Whenever I see a recipe calling for any kind of “broth”, I usually use the Asian mushroom powder seasoning I have on hand (1 rounded teaspoon to 1 cup water). I tend to stock up on several bags when we happen to go to an Asian grocery store so I always have it on hand. You can use whatever kind of broth seasoning you want although keep in mind that it might turn the cheese sauce a different color.
  • I hardly use miso so I make sure to get the mellow-est and mild-est kind there is, which is a mellow white miso. I’m sure you can use another kind but use even less to start with.
  • I have a 8 or 12 ounce squeeze bottle (like those ketchup or mustard kinds you may see in a diner) that I put the cheeze sauce into and stuck it in the fridge for later. I have a feeling it’ll come out best when warm or at room temperature.

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.

Vegan soto ayam, 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, you could call it soto mie (i.e. noodle soup; say: “SO-tow MEE-eh”) but with the flavors usually found in soto ayam. Okay, never mind, I’ll just call it vegan soto ayam.

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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). While there are many different ways soto ayam is served that is based on region, I grew up eating this dish with sliced boiled eggs and krupuk (fried tapioca “crackers”). Instead I replaced these items 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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Vegan Soto Ayam, 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)
  • Half of a 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 water + vegetable broth seasoning)
    • If you’re feeling indulgent, 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 (an ingredient I grew up eating this with but it’s difficult to find)
  • Bok choy, cleaned and sliced
  • Mushrooms, tofu, tempeh, seitan
  • Green, red, 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 non-sweet 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.
  • I used to use one whole onion, but with the amount of garlic used, you’re more likely to end up with, well, a lot of…flatulence. So! I changed the recipe to only use half of an onion and it still works well.
  • If you get your hands on a little fresh turmeric root, do it! I did this once with approximately an average person thumb-sized piece.
  • 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 three 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.