Tag Archives: vegetarian

Further Experiments in Tofu: Now With 100% More Pho!

20 Aug

vegetarian pho with tofuA few months ago I wrote about my very first foray into tofu. And…that was pretty much the last one. Asian cuisine is one genre in which I’m not particularly confident. Part of it’s just familiarity: I grew up in a smallish town, and I didn’t have regular access to anything other than ultra-Americanized Chinese food until I left for college, which led to several situations like this:

Cosmopolitan Friend: “Hey, I heard this place has the best pad thai—want to check it out? I have been craving pad thai for weeks!”

What I said: “Definitely! Pad thai, yum!”

What I thought: “Oh my god I hope I like pad thai.”

Turns out I do like pad thai and all other sorts of things I ordered blindly during my first months at school. I never really got around to making Asian food at home though, aside from a few half-hearted attempts at tossing diced chicken with hoisin sauce and calling it a day. I was put off partly by the sheer number of ingredients I’d have to start stocking in my pantry and partly by the fact that I can’t walk in any direction for more than five minutes without hitting a Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, or Chinese restaurant. At one point my husband and I were such regulars at a Korean takeout place that the owners would ring up our order the second we walked in the door.

Then, after weeks and weeks of record-setting, tomato-killing heat, Chicago got a wet, gloomy, chilly day. I was so thrown off by the absence of sun and warmth that I started thinking I had a summer cold, or a headache, or some other ailment that meant I needed to go back to bed. Incidentally, another thing that happened when I moved away was that I started hearing people talk about pho the way I would have talked about chicken soup as the cure for what ails you. I also heard people describing the innumerable varieties of pho: apparently the more unusual the cut of meat in the soup (tripe, anyone?) the better. The consensus seemed to be that the pho adapted for “western” tastes (white meat chicken, even vegetarian) wasn’t particularly good, even sort of an afterthought at the best pho places. But it was cold and wet and I was afraid the sun would never shine again and I wanted hot, spicy soup. So I consulted my new kitchen oracle. Success! And the addition of tofu croutons replaced the protein sacrificed for a vegetarian version.

Anyway, the sun did shine the next day, but now I’m prepared should it try any of that funny business again.

Vegetarian Pho with Tofu Croutons
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Faux Pho

for the croutons

  • 1 pound firm tofu, patted dry and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1-2 tablespoons coconut oil or similar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Gently toss the tofu cubes with the oil until well coated. Season with salt, pepper, or other spice blends if you like. (I left mine plain just to see how well they’d go with the pho.)

Bake for 1 hour. The cubes will shrink and become a nice golden brown. Use immediately or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

for the soup

  • 12 ounces rice noodles
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or similar
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise or coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves, cinnamon, or nutmeg
  • -or- ¼ teaspoon each cinnamon, clove, cumin, and cardamom (for those of us without coriander, like me)
  • ½ teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 6 cups water or low-sodium vegetable stock (perhaps reduce the soy sauce if you use stock)
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound mixed fresh vegetables: I used a combination of bok choy, shitake mushrooms, and snow peas, along with a bit of kelp and dulse (prepared according to package directions). Carrots, cabbage, onions, and other greens also make regular pho appearances.

for the garnish

  • fresh basil leaves
  • fresh chile slices
  • red chile flakes
  • lime wedges
  • sliced scallions
  • bean sprouts
  • tofu croutons

Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Rinse well in cold water and set aside.

In a deep saucepan or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until soft, about one minute. Add the spices and stir until fragrant, about another minute. Add the water, soy sauce, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer while you prepare the vegetables and garnishes.

When you have all the garnishes prepared and set aside, add the pound of mixed vegetables to the broth and simmer until just tender. Remove from heat and stir in the noodles.

Serve in big bowls and let everyone garnish as they like.

vegetarian pho with tofu croutons

So You Forgot to Eat at Your Wedding? Have Some Quiche.

9 Aug

One of my favorite parts of our wedding last summer was the backyard brunch my parents hosted the next morning. It was nice to have the chance to catch up with everyone in a more relaxed setting and while not wearing several pounds of lace. And there was food. Glorious, glorious food. See, I had made Bride Mistake #1, the mistake I never should have made, because it had been drilled into my head by every wedding magazine and every friend who had been through it: I didn’t eat at the reception. We had a cocktail reception, so there was no designated time for me to grab a plate and sit down. I distinctly remember my matron of honor offering to fix me a plate and I distinctly remember saying, “Oh, no, don’t worry, I’ll get my own in a few minutes.” Midnight found me eating stale Oreos from a vending machine in my wedding gown while my much smarter and not hungry husband looked on and shook his head.

I tried my best, then, to do the brunch justice. I parked myself at a table and did not budge until I had made up for the reception and then some. But try as I might, my mother was left with six or seven quiches–spinach and mushroom, cheddar and bacon, ham…Lucky for us, the quiches froze well. The next day my parents drove us, our wedding gifts, and several quiches back to Chicago.

We had two days in the city before we were scheduled to leave for the honeymoon. During those two days we lived off quiche, wedding cake, extra bottles of champagne (did I mention there was extra champagne too?), and trippy Nicholas Cage movies.

So in honor of our first anniversary, I decided to try my hand at quiche. My recipe is basically a mashup of advice from Michael Ruhlman (caramelize your onions! shallots!), Julia Child (naturally), and my own kitchen. Technically, my kitchen did not provide advice, but I am becoming more and more averse to shopping trips for a single ingredient. Hence the 2% milk rather than cream, and a parmesan topping rather than a softer cheese incorporated throughout. And really, this is comfort food, which should be simple and flexible. But if you feel the need to use French cuisine to make you doubt yourself and the very world we live in,  try one of these. Which I, arrogant little thing, did for French class when I was in high school. It went…it went.

But live and learn, and celebrate with quiche instead.

Rustic* Caramelized Onion & Mushroom Quiche

  • 1 pastry crust , rolled out large enough to accommodate the high sides of a springform pan
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced
  • a few tablespoons of butter
  • salt
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced (cremini or button)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 oz ounces baby spinach
  • 2 cups milk (2%, whole, or cream–pick your poison)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1 ounce grated parmesan

the crust:

Unlike pies and cheesecakes, you can’t get away with not parbaking the crust, so preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Foil the seam of your springform pan and place a parchment circle in the center. Gently place the rolled crust over your springform and press it to the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim any excess from the top edge. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

Now, if you’ve got pie weights, you’re smarter than me. I ended up making a contraption that mostly worked. I wrapped a round cake pan slightly smaller than my springform with folded strips of aluminum foil until the sides touched the crust. There were a few puffy spots in the parbaked crust where the foil wasn’t perfectly flush with the sides, but that didn’t seem to hurt the final product.

Bake the crust for 30 minutes; set aside while you prepare the filling. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.

the filling:

First, the onions: Melt a little butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion slices, toss to coat, add a little salt, and put the lid on. Keep covered for 10 minutes–this will give the onions time to steam themselves and get the caramelization process rolling.

After 10 minutes, remove the lid and turn the heat down to low-ish (a 2 on my gas range, not the “low” setting). The darker the onion, the sweeter and more complex the flavor, so give yourself enough time to get the onions where you want them. I kept mine on for about 35 minutes, stirring more frequently toward the end to prevent sticking. If you have some on hand, deglaze with a splash of red wine. Balsamic vinegar works well too.

When your onions are done, remove them from the pot and set aside. Melt another tablespoon of butter. Add the mushrooms and shallots and a little salt and cook over medium heat until the mushrooms have reduced by at least half–they should be soft, but not floppy. One round of mushrooms cooperated very nicely, but another batch produced much more liquid than usual. I couldn’t cook it off without overcooking the mushrooms, so I simply ladled it out. You don’t want too much liquid going in with your filling.

While the mushrooms are cooking, whisk together the milk, eggs, a little salt, and thyme in a bowl or large (at least 4 cup) measuring cup.

When the mushrooms are done, turn the heat off and put the onions back in the pot. Add the spinach and mix everything together. The spinach will wilt a bit. Spread the vegetables evenly in the parbaked crust. Pour the eggs/milk over the filling. (Note: depending on how much your onions and mushrooms cooked down, you might not be able to fit all the egg/milk mixture; the crust should accommodate at minimum 3 1/2 cups, though.) Sprinkle the parmesan over the top.

Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes, or until the quiche is puffed and browned. Let it rest for at least 20 minutes before removing the springform and slicing. (Don’t worry, it will still be warm to serve.)

* Why am I calling it “rustic”? Because I can. And “rustic” things seem to be in vogue, so maybe it will improve my SEO. But mostly because it’s not one of those pretty quiches in a fluted tart pan. Which have their place, of course, and I’m sure this recipe could be halved to accommodate such a device.

Lasagna, Sticky Green Style

1 Aug

I make no claims of being able to make a proper lasagna. How could I, when you can order the dish in five different restaurants and get five very different lasagnas? Ricotta, no ricotta, béchamel, no béchamel, beef only, beef and pork ragù, marinara…Every family with a real stake in the debate (my own is ambivalent, not being anywhere close to having any Italian relatives) has a gold standard against which all other lasagnas are held. At minimum there is some kind of tomato sauce, some kind of dairy, and long, wide noodles. I am not interested in settling the Great Lasagna Debate or offending anyone’s grandmother. What I am interested in is meals that are hot, filling, make good leftovers, and are meatless.

That last requirement gave me a bit of trouble. My favorite meal–nay, my favorite taste–is my mom’s spaghetti sauce. I would eat it every day and smell like garlic forever if I knew it wouldn’t negatively affect my social life. It’s the sauce she uses for lasagna, too, and thus would have been my first choice for any lasagna I would make. But I went and banned meat from my kitchen, so…

One feature of my mom’s sauce is sliced mushrooms. Mushrooms have a rich, earthy depth to them, as well as a texture that lends itself well to lasagna. But without the benefit of the real meaty-ness of…meat…to tie everything together, I was worried that I’d end up with tomato sauce with mushrooms, not the singular, cohesive flavor of my mom’s sauce. She cooks her sauce for a long time, at least three or four hours, so what if I cooked mine for a really long time? I decided that a slow cooker was the way to go, and I allotted a minimum of six hours to my sauce.

My husband is pretty lukewarm on pasta. He likes the occasional bowl of pasta or slice of lasagna, but he doesn’t dream of fresh pappardelle like I do. Credit for the inclusion of eggplant slices and spinach goes to him, which he rightly identified as both a means to cut down on the pasta and give it a nutritional kick.

You’ll also notice that my lasagna is ricotta free. My cheese threshold is pretty low, and most lasagnas simply have too much for my taste. There’s plenty of mozzarella and parmesan though, and I really don’t think final product loses anything for it.

Eggplant Lasagna with Slow-Cooked Mushroom Sauce

for the sauce:

  • 2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • olive oil
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (no salt added variety if you can find it)
  • 2 cans tomato sauce
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed*
  • 2 tablespoons dried** oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Place the mushrooms in the slow cooker and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Toss to coat. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, and crushed garlic.

If you’ve got a mortar and pestle, combine the herbs and crush them a bit. If not, put them in the palm of your hand and rub your hands together over the slow cooker. Salt and pepper to taste; the amount of salt will depend on whether you used low-salt canned goods, and I usually use five or six grinds of pepper. You’ll want to taste the sauce as it cooks and adjust as you see fit.

I put the slow cooker on high for at least two hours and then turn it to low for another three or four. If you’re going to be away from the kitchen, I’d put it at low for the duration.

to assemble:

  • 1 large or 2 small eggplants, sliced into 1/4″ thick half-moons, and salted and drained***
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into little cubes (Of course you can grate it, but have you ever tried grating fresh mozzarella? It’s a disaster.)
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 8 ounces lasagna noodles (no-boil has worked fine for me)

Here’s the order I work in:

1. pasta
2. sauce
3. mozzarella
4. eggplant
5. spinach
6. parmesan
1. pasta

I usually end up doing three rounds, with the final layer always sauce topped with cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Let stand for 15 minute before serving.


Wait, where’s the photo of this deliciousness?

There is no photo, for several reasons. My phone makes a better phone than a camera, and the lighting sucked that day, and I was really hungry and I didn’t want to bother. But I promise you that there was a bubbly, golden lasagna in my kitchen last week.

So I will leave you with some photos of the progress my porch garden is making. I have three huge, lovely tomato plants with tons of beautiful blossoms, and this is the only tomato I have to show for it. It seems my plants are experiencing something called “blossom drop,” which is a pollination problem caused by excessive heat. And excessive heat we have had. I won’t be making salsa anytime soon, but I can console myself with fussing over this little guy.

a blossom that is not likely to become a fruit

I don’t have much hope for the cucumbers either, but the tendrils are so neat.


* Since garlic’s flavor does depend somewhat on the way it’s prepped, crushed gives you the strongest flavor. I, however, use a garlic press, since that’s the official way. But I know that garlic presses are verboten by many serious cooks.

** I feel fresh herbs would be a waste here since they would get cooked to death. A bit of fresh oregano and thyme just before you turn off the cooker would not be a bad idea though.

*** I place the slices in a large colander over a big bowl, salt the slices, cover them with plastic wrap, and then put a heavy-ish saucepan on top. Allow about an hour for draining.

Potato Salad of Peace

28 Jul

I love vinegar. Love it. It’s hereditary: family lore has my uncles fighting over who got to drink the pickle juice when the last dill was gone. So naturally the German potato salad my maternal grandmother made for every potluck and family dinner since forever will curl your hair. My paternal grandmother took it a little easier and was liberal with the sugar. My mother and I come down somewhere in the middle, and I expect my sister will do the same. But we all agree that mayonnaise, miracle whip, and their ilk have no business near the potatoes.

We vinegar-loving women, however, had the misfortune to marry men whose potato preferences are strictly of the mayo-based variety, or, in my case, run to no potato salad at all. This makes for some very tense potlucks and cookouts, and, depending on whose turf the potatoes are on, someone is either unhappily eating the wrong salad or eating none at all.

So I ditched the vinegar and the mayo (I also aced myself by not cooking bacon anymore) and came up with something that has the potential to please any of the vinegar- and/or mayo-haters in your family. The black beans can make it a meal (protein!), but if you want the focus on the potatoes, leaving the beans out and using 2 pounds of potatoes would be equally tasty.

Summer Roasted Potato Salad

  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, or a similar variety, quartered
  • 2 ears sweet corn, unshucked
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a baking dish large enough to let the potatoes sit in a single layer, toss the quarters with a little olive oil and salt. You’ll bake the potatoes for 1 hour, but after 30 minutes put the unshucked corn in the oven. You don’t have to do anything to it–the corn will sort of steam itself in the husks. (Hearing about this method was magical–nothing worse than standing in front of a big pot of boiling water in the summer.)

In a large bowl, combine the black beans, scallions, chile, cumin, about two tablespoons of olive oil, a good pinch of salt, and the juice from the lime.

When the corn is cool enough to handle, shuck and remove the silk. Place the wide end of the cob on a cutting board, and with a sharp knife gently slice downward to remove the kernels. Combine the kernels and the roasted potatoes with the beans. Season to taste with salt, extra lime, or a little more oil if the potatoes seem dry.

Serve warm, at room temp, or cold, and make everyone happy.

Here Be Monsters

24 Jul

I don’t really like vegetables.

I mean, they’re ok, and often quite good prepared certain ways, but I can’t say I get excited about them. I do see the irony in this, yes: a vegetarian blog by someone who doesn’t love vegetables? If I had my druthers, all the vegetable nutrition in the world would be contained in russet potatoes, corn, mushrooms, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions. Carrots and celery are acceptable if they have been cooked long enough to take on the flavor of whatever they’re in–soup, pot roast–i.e., they must not taste like carrots or celery. My husband happily munches spinach straight from the bag. I kind of want to punch him.

I want to make it clear that I do not lead a vegetableless existence. I do eat salads, last night’s dinner had eggplant, asparagus is great in frittatas, and so on. But my vegetable consumption, especially greens, is too low for any reasonably health-conscious adult. So how could I get the greens without needing to sit dejectedly in front of a pile of kale?

Smoothie-making, and its cousin, Juicing, are getting a bad rap, and in some ways they deserve it. Sugar is sugar no matter how you slice it, and fruit has a lot of sugar. So, smoothies can be a glycemic disaster, and juicing is even worse, because you’ve lost the regulating benefits of fiber. And the fat content can vary wildly, in either direction: add fruit to frozen yogurt and you might as well have a milkshake; add only fruit to water and you’ll be hungry in an hour.

So how can you avoid a monstrous concoction that will give you nothing but trouble? Keep a few things in mind:

Is there fat or protein?
Fat and protein = full. Most smoothie recipes use banana to make them, well, smooth. But try avocado instead. Yes, it’s high in fat, but not that kind of fat, and it’s lower in sugar, which means you’ll feel satisfied longer. Avocados do require a little planning  to give them time to ripen, and once they’re ripe they need to be used quickly, but it is possible to freeze them for ease of use. Just puree in a blender with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice per avocado, and then use an ice cube tray to freeze individual portions. The cubes should be good for about three months.

Plain greek yogurt or protein powder work well too–you’re unlikely to notice the “grit” that protein drinks made with water have. And for heaven’s sake, none of that Dannon or Yoplait stuff if you go the yogurt route. Avoid added sugar in whatever dairy or protein you decide to incorporate (plain yogurt, unsweetened almond milk, plain nut butters, etc.).

Is there fiber?
Fat and protein and fiber = a smoothie that will keep you going until lunch, or dinner, or whatever. Don’t forget that even a “good” smoothie has as many calories as a meal–they’re not snacks. (Unless you can allot 350 or so calories per snack, in which case you are probably hanging around the Olympic pool this week.)

Is there sugar?
Trick question. Unless you’re doing an all-veg smoothie, your fruit is contributing plenty of sugar. I do find that  some frozen fruit (pineapple, raspberry) is less sweet than fresh, so I sometimes add a little raw honey if I’m using a greens mix that is particularly…assertive. I can’t comment on things like stevia, as I haven’t branched that far into alternative sweeteners.

So, there are about a million green smoothie recipes floating around the internet, some good, some bad, but here’s what I’ve been drinking these days to help myself feel a little more like a responsible adult. Would I be better off with a salad? Sure. But what should happen and what is likely to happen, are, as we all know, two very different things.

color-coordinated green straw poking up Loch Ness style

Green Monster Smoothie

  • 1 granny smith apple, diced
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple bits
  • 2-3 cups greens (Trader Joe’s just came out with a kale, collard, and spinach mix!)
  • 1-2 cups water (start with one and add more if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey


Black & Blue

19 Jul

Ever have one of those days that’s not truly bad, but not quite good either? One of those days when your plea to the universe is less “Why me?” and more “Come on, really”? A day when you realize that your grown-from-seed, vibrant-when-you-left pepper plants did not survive your weekend away? And the train pulls away the second you get to the platform, and you break the impossible-to-replace headphones you’ve used nearly every day for seven years, and your pizza crust fails for the fifteenth time? And the dryer is broken and you’re left with a pile of wet socks and underwear? Just one of those days when you’re feeling a little pushed around, a little bruised and black and blue?

Yeah, me too. Here’s some dessert to make us feel better.

Black & Blueberry Galette

for the filling:

  • 1 pound fresh mixed blueberries and blackberries (I used about 2/3 blueberries and 1/3 blackberries)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (3/4 cup if you prefer or if your berries are really tart)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

for the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ice water

to assemble:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • coarse sugar

To make the crust, combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until it’s evenly distributed in pea-sized bits. Add the vinegar to the ice water and slowly pour in, stirring gently. Use just enough water to make the dough come together; it’s ok if it’s a bit crumbly. Divide the dough in two and place each pile on plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to shape the dough into discs. Refrigerate the wrapped dough for at least 1 hour. (This will make 2 crusts, so you’ll have one to freeze.)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Gently stir together the berries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, cinnamon and cornstarch.

Cut or fold a piece of parchment paper to the size of a rimless baking sheet. Lightly flour the parchment. Roll out the dough in a rough circle to 1/4″ thick.

Pile the fruit mixture into the center of the dough. Spread evenly, leaving a ring about 2″ wide. Working in one direction, gently fold up the sides of the crust over the fruit. Brush the dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Slide the pastry onto the baking sheet. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Cool on a wire rack.

Cold Lunch For a Hot Day

7 Jul

There were several reasons why this recipe seemed like a Very Good Idea for lunch today:

  • Chicago has been flirting with 100 degree temperatures this week.
  • Turning on any heat-producing device (stove, oven, hairdryer…) seemed like a Very Bad Idea.
  • Cold lunches usually = sandwiches, and I don’t really care for sandwiches. (I know.)
  • I should eat more greens.
  • My basil needed pruning.

And lo, all my problems solved in a single recipe!

Cannellini Bean Salad with Spinach and Lemon-Basil Dressing
adapted from Heather’s Dish

I made some adjustments to fit my preferences and scaled down since I was the only one eating. Multiply as needed to serve as a main dish or as a side for a group.

  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 3 good handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • juice & zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 small or 1 large clove garlic, minced or microplaned
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  • kosher or sea salt to taste

Combine the beans and the sliced scallion in a bowl.

In a blender, pulse the spinach a few times until it’s coarsely chopped. No need to worry if some whole leaves remain. Add the spinach to the bowl with the beans.

Put the rest of the ingredients in the blender and pulse until the dressing has emulsified. Pour over the beans and spinach, mix gently, and salt to taste. Eat, and be very, very glad you decided not to use the stove.