Make this meal.

This is not an entirely original recipe.  The crepes are from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.  The zucchini wine sauce is from a recipe I got verbally from a friend close to 20 years ago, made it once, and never made it again, and a version of it can be found (elsewhere) on the internet, normally used as a pasta sauce.  That’s what I used it for 20 years ago.  But THIS.  This is SO good.  You could also eat the sauce as a soup, because that’s what I did as soon as I put as much as I could into my clients’ container.  It is delicious.  And, well, the fillings are pretty ordinary.  Except that this meal is awesome.  This is truly a case of the sum being greater than its parts.

Also, this meal is a little labor intensive.  It involves a lot of pans and time.  But sometimes it’s just what you have to do for a satisfying and maybe a little unusual vegan meal.  I think it’s worth it.

Buckwheat crepes filled with caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, and roasted butternut squash, drizzled with zucchini wine sauce

Buckwheat crepes

  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 water
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chickpea flour
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a container, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.  When ready to use, whisk the ingredients again in case they’ve separated.

Heat a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat.  Once hot, spray generously with cooking spray.  Ladle about a 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and immediately swirl the pan so that batter spreads out thinly.  When the top of the crepe is dry and there are some holes in it, VERY CAREFULLY flip it over with a thin metal spatula.  The first one will often be for the chef.  Don’t be discouraged.  Just fry the next one, and really make sure it’s dry on top before you touch it!  Fry on the second side for about 30 seconds, then remove from the pan and place on a plate.  Continue until you’ve used all of the batter.  You should get 8 to 10 crepes.

Fillings

  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced small
  • Lots of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • Herb of your choice or none (I like tarragon or sage on the squash)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, place the butternut squash on top, drizzle with olive oil and an herb of your choice and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring after about 20 minutes.  Check for doneness and roasty color after 30, and probably roast for another 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt (try truffle salt if you can get it – I got mine at Trader Joe’s).

Meanwhile, heat two cast iron pans over medium-high heat.  Add about 2 tbsp olive oil to each, and place the onions in one and the mushrooms in the other.  Caramelize the onions for about 5 minutes until they start to brown, then turn the heat to medium-low, and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 25 to 30 minutes or more, depending on how dark you like them.  Salt to taste.

In the other pan, toss the mushrooms regularly until they’re browned and have started to stick to the pan.  Add the wine to deglaze the pan, and turn off the heat once much of the liquid has evaporated.  Sprinkle with salt and transfer the mushrooms from the pan to a plate, and set aside.

Zucchini wine sauce

  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large zucchini, grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup good veg stock
  • Salt to taste

Heat a large cast iron pan (the one you sauteed the mushrooms in would be good – that’s why I told you to transfer them to a plate!) over medium-high heat.  Once hot, add the olive oil, swirling to coat your pan.  Add the grated zucchini and saute for about 10 minutes until they’ve started to caramelize.  Add the wine and the veg stock, and turn the heat to medium, and let saute for about 20 minutes until well cooked, and pretty melty and mushy.  Put the contents of the pan in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Salt to taste.

Serve a crepe (if you need to reheat, toast in a dry pan until warmed through) with a choice of fillings with the zucchini wine sauce drizzled on top.

Chili con frijoles

I haven’t always been vegan. I’m certainly a better vegan cook than I ever was when I cooked with meat. Nonetheless, there were a few meat meals I made very well, most of which I’ve successfully and satisfactorily veganized; however, one dish remains: chili.

I’ve tried all the usual suspects. The tempeh, the highly processed veggie crumbles, mushrooms…. It’s not about texture for me, so seitan and tofu wouldn’t do. Chili made with ground beef has a dark, rich depth of flavor that I have not been able to master without the beef. But this chili is very good. Absolutely good enough to share with you. And I have more tricks up my sleeve that I’m going to try next.

One disclaimer: I am a native Californian. Chili in California most often has vegetables in it, and definitely has beans in it, even when it’s made with meat. When I was a kid, I remember seeing a can of chili con carne “without beans” on the shelf of a grocery store, and asking, “No beans? What’s in the can??”

Chili con frijoles

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • *2 frozen veggie burger patties, diced (optional)
  • 2 generous tbsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 28-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups cooked navy beans
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels, roasted (from Trader Joe’s, if you’ve got it)
  • Salt to taste

Preheat a cast iron Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil. Once the oil is shiny, add the onion, and let saute for about five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients in order, chopping the whole tomatoes with your spoon,

Chili and fixings

Chili and fixings

stir well, bring to a boil, and then turn to low. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Serve with fried onions, Tabasco, and corn bread.

*I used Don Lee veggie burgers from Costco, which are made of quinoa and veggies, and are good quality without many weird ingredients.

Gratin of my dreams

I have an Aunt Carol who is fabulous. Truth be told, she’s my step aunt, but I’ve known her as long as I can remember, and she’s so awesome, I can’t not claim her. If my memory serves me correctly, in the early ’70s, she and her equally fabulous husband first moved to Bern, Switzerland, producer of – in my opinion – the world’s best chocolate, where they taught, sang, and accompanied opera. Then, they moved to northern Germany (#2 in chocolate, but it’s a close second), where they continue to live, teach, sing, and breathe opera today.

Now, as I said, Aunt Carol is fabulous, so being fabulous, she has to study and become fluent in Greek after the age of, like, 65. Well, she lives in Germany, which is about 5 minutes from Greece, and lucky me, she’s not vegan, but allergic to dairy, so I am the happiest beneficiary of her notes about Greek peasant food that she eats or actually participates in making. I live vicariously.

Based on Aunt Carol’s descriptions, I’ve added freshly grated turmeric to mashed or roasted potatoes, and improvised a pumpkin pie surrounded in phyllo, which always gets comments like, “Mmmm, it’s like baklava!” Tonight, based on her rough description of a casserole, I came up with this absolutely DELICIOUS gratin. I don’t know how much it tasted like the one Aunt Carol ate on her last trip to Greece, but I assure you, it made me swoon.

Greek eggplant and potato gratin

  • 1 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 lrg eggplant, thinly sliced cross-wise, about 1/4″ thick
  • 6 red-skin potatoes, sliced about 1/4″ thick
  • 1 14-oz can tomato sauce
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • Coarse salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°. Spray a 9×13″ casserole pan with cooking spray. Heat a large cast iron pan over a little lower than medium-high heat. Add about 1/4 cup of oil to the pan, and fry the eggplant slices in batches, adding oil as needed, until golden or a little darker. Place the tomato sauce, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Pour about a third of the tomato sauce into the bottom of the casserole pan, layer on half of the potato slices, half of the eggplant, one-third of the tomato sauce, the other half of the potatoes and eggplant, the onion slices, and the last third of sauce. Drizzle on whatever is left of the olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about an hour. Test the potato for doneness by poking it with a sharp knife. If it’s soft, uncover the gratin, and bake for another ten or fifteen minutes until bubbling. Generously sprinkle on the coarse salt (Maldon is my preference), and serve.

Bless Yer Heart

This post is dedicated to the memory of Carol Ann, a beloved friend whose life was taken many many years too early. Carol Ann lived in a very small town in North Carolina. Although I didn’t get to spend much time with her, I knew her to be a special person, full of love, kindness, and generosity. And although she had never left the south before, she was excited to embark on adventures. She came to California for an adventure – to San Francisco, no less – and was open to everything. She took on all new experiences with a smile.

When I first met her, in her own habitat, so to speak, she was warm and funny. And had no problem mocking the vegan food I was about to feed her. I had prepared vegan paella. I’m guessing she had never had non-vegan paella. She loved it. And I told her about the oatmeal I’d been making for my family for close to twenty years. She didn’t like oatmeal – I don’t know how that’s possible – but she liked how “healthy” this sounded, and the fact that she could make a big batch of it at the beginning of the week, and take servings of it to work. So I gave her the recipe, and she loved it, and ate it all the time.

If you make this, you’ll get lots of benefits in addition to the main one, which is that it tastes so good. You already know that plain old oatmeal is good for you, but this comes with two extra whole grains. And if you intend to make it regularly, chances are it’ll add at least one whole grain to your pantry, bulgur, which is quick cooking and delicious. You’re welcome!

So when you’ve reheated a bowl of this in the office microwave, making your co-workers drool from the cinnamony smell of home-cooking, think of Carol Ann, twinkle in her eye, smiling.

Best oatmeal ever

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup bulgur
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/4 cup raisins (golden is extra yummy)
  • 1 heaping tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp molasses, optional

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 qt of water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium and add the oats and bulgur. While whisking constantly, stream in the cornmeal until completely mixed in. Thinly slice the banana into the pot, add the raisins, cinnamon, salt, and molasses, if using. Mix well, turn the heat to medium low, and simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Cover the pot, remove from the heat, and let sit for 7 more minutes. Serve with (home-made) brown sugar or maple syrup, some toasted chopped nuts of your choice, and some dried blueberries like Daniel Tiger.

Makes 3 – 4 servings

The best things in life are cake

Pardon me for waxing philosophical here, but as a lady of a certain age, I have come to realize that one does not escape one’s ancestry.  Life is beautiful and rich when you embrace your past and cut your own path with your people at your back.  For me, that means this coffee cake.  When I took my first bite, I felt like I was 80 years old.  In a good way.  You get yourself a steaming cup of coffee or black tea (okay, or rooiboos – whatever your pleasure), you kick your feet up (everyone has to do it once in a while), you schnuggle under the afghan your grandmother crocheted you, and you eat a nice piece of cake.  Revel, rejoice in the simplicity of it.
I suppose first, you must make the coffee cake.  Fortunately, this one is quite simple.
(Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe for Polish babka)
Ashkenazic coffee cake
  • 1/2 cup vanilla almond milk, lukewarm (microwave for 45 seconds if cold from the fridge)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce, heated in the microwave for about 30 seconds
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine stick (I prefer Nucoa for baking)
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup white or golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup currants

Syrup

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple juice

Icing

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp vanilla almond milk

Place the cake ingredients, except for the fruit, in the bowl of a standing mixer or in a large bowl and mix until the ingredients are well combined.  If using a standing mixer or hand beater, mix on medium for about 2 minutes.  Add the fruit, and mix on low until combined.  Cover your bowl, and let the cake batter rest for an hour.  Don’t worry, it’s really fermenting more than rising or anything else.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and then pour the batter into a bundt pan sprayed with cooking spray, cover, and let rest for 30 more minutes.  Uncover, and bake for 30 minutes until a thermometer reads 190 degrees or until it’s light on top and golden on the sides.

While the babka is baking, put the syrup ingredients into a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Whisk occasionally until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear.  Set aside.

Remove the cake from the oven, gently poke it with a fork all over, then pour the syrup over the cake.  It may seem like a lot, but it’s what makes this cake so moist!  After about 20 minutes, loosen the cake from the pan, and carefully turn it out onto a plate.

Place the icing ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Once the cake is completely cooled, drizzle the icing over the top.

The genius of the Mediterranean

I love the food of the Mediterranean. I lived in France for a year – in the Loire Valley, but I prefer the food of Provence. I’ve never been to Italy or Greece, except in my fantasies, but I have been to Spain and Portugal and Israel and Argentina…cultures that emphasize fresh, delicious, in-season produce in their cooking. Cultures that melt tomatoes in olive oil, that brilliantly combine garlic and lemon parts to make miraculous, simple un-sauces, where perfect olives of infinite variety are tapas…

In all of these places, veganism would seem preposterous to most people. Why would you willingly cut out whole categories of food? No matter. I’m grateful for the inspiration. Grateful for the history and tradition and invention.

And so, voila, my homage to the Mediterranean.

I should note that when my 5-year-old tasted this, she said, unsolicited, “You should definitely serve this to your clients. Definitely.” I also think this would make a super yummy pizza topping. And a little secret: the broccoli and tomatoes were left over from a crudite tray. Ew – refrigerated tomatoes. But in this dish, delicious!!

Mediterranean pasta

  • 1 tbsp + 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, broken into small pieces
  • 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4-5 fat garlic-stuffed olives (or Greek-cured or kalamata), sliced
  • Juice and zest of half of a lemon (I used a Meyer)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 lb whole wheat penne
  • 1/2 cup almond meal

Put a large covered saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Once boiling, cook the pasta (add salt!) until al dente, and then drain. Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron pan over a bit over medium heat and add the tbsp of oil, and then, one it’s shimmering, add the shallots and broccoli. Saute for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the tomatoes, garlic, and oregano. Coax the tomatoes into melting by poking them with a sharp knife. Add the rest of the oil, the chickpeas, olives, lemon zest and juice, and salt to taste. Let simmer and melt while the pasta cooks.

Heat a small cast iron pan over medium heat, and add the almond meal. Toast, stirring often, for about ten minutes until well toasted but not burned.

Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a drizzle of olive oil if you like. Sprinkle each serving with almond meal, and serve.

Chickpea of the sea

This post is dedicated to non-vegans who might be looking for something a little different to add to their lunch routine. I’m almost embarrassed to post it, because it’s hardly a recipe and there are plenty of recipes like it out there, but it just might not have occurred to some of you that you can make this.

I’ve heard from a surprising number of vegans that we all miss the same thing: tuna salad. So, this is a great alternative – mercury and cholesterol (not to mention cruelty) free – that tastes great. It does the trick for me, when I’m craving something like tuna or egg salad. The optional seaweed gives the salad a slightly fishy flavor (like tuna, duh), and is a good excuse to snack on roasted seaweed, a food that is both super duper good for you and completely addictive!

Chickpea salad

  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tsp relish
  • 1 tsp mustard (I like brown or Dijon)
  • 1 tsp Maldon or other coarse salt
  • 2 or 3 small sheets roasted seaweed snack, shredded (optional)

Drain the chickpeas very well and put them in a bowl. Mash them with a potato masher until well mashed, and no whole beans remain. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well with a fork, mashing and mixing as you would with tuna. Eat on whole wheat toast or with crackers. Add a tomato slice, some lettuce, pickles, avocado, or whatever you would eat on a tuna or egg salad sandwich!