Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spicy Lentil Soup

I came up with this soup purely by experimentation. It was a crowd pleaser and super easy to make. I had a guest coming over and I had to work with ingredients I had in the house.

Cook 1 cup of dried lentils in a sauce pan. (I usually add 2 cups at first and then add more water as needed. It generally takes around 25-30 minutes to cook the lentils. Let nearly all of the water dry out. 

In the meantime....saute the following in a soup pot until the veggies are soft and start to caramelize: 
1/2 sweet onion - chopped
1 red bell pepper - chopped
1 jalepeno pepper (remove seeds) - chopped
2 heaping tablespoons of crushed garlic
a few good shakes of coarse ground pepper
a couple of good shakes of seasoning salt
a few good shakes of red pepper flakes
a few good shakes of extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor add the following and blend until creamy: 
the cooked lentils
the sauteed mixture
2 cups of water
three shakes of cumin
1 good size pinch of turmeric
3 or 4 good size pinches of curry masala
2 teaspoons of vegan chicken bouillon powder
a couple of dashes of tamari
a few more shakes of coarse ground pepper

Pour the blended mixture into the soup pot and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Serve in a bowl with slices of avocado on top. Makes 4 good-size bowls. 

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Eat Your Veggies

Lot's of people seem to have a fear of vegetables. Perhaps it goes back to their childhood; maybe they were forced to clear their plate (filled with canned or over cooked veggies) before leaving the table. Then there is the veggie specific fear, such as Kale, which typically stems from not knowing what to do with it or because it seems "exotic". 

Vegetables are rich in flavor, minerals and vitamins. Instead of centering your meal around a piece of meat (or even fake meat), try making the veggies the star of the show. Vegetables have luscious colors, which can make a home-cooked meal look tres gourmet. 

If you don't like veggies, try preparing them in different ways. Perhaps you might like certain veggies raw rather than cooked. Going raw is always a great option for veggies. However, if you're looking for a hot meal, try sautéing, steaming, baking/roasting or BBQ-ing your veggies. 

Veggies also make great snacks. Instead of a bag of chips, eat a bag of snap peas! 

Some of my favorite vegetables (such as kale, beets, swiss chard, eggplants, etc.) may seem inaccessible to some; however keep in mind that the "strangest" veggies are often the tastiest. Don't feel intimated by vegetables; instead try a large variety using various flavor combinations. 

More to come...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Vegan Kitchen Staples

To make my life easier in the kitchen, I typically have the following on hand at all times:

Brown Rice
TIP: Brown rice is a great source of fiber and has a rich nutty flavor. Yes, it takes longer to cook brown rice rather than white rice, but your body will appreciate the extra 20 minutes of cooking time. If you hate waiting for rice to cook, then cook a bunch at once. Cooked rice stores fine in the fridge for a few days. Whenever I incorporate rice with a meal, I always get the brown rice cooking first. By the time I'm done, so is the rice. 

Crushed Garlic
TIP: I buy this stuff in bulk too. Costco has a giant container for around 5 bucks. Trader Joes has a really creamy crushed garlic. You can always crush it yourself, but that takes extra time and effort. I use crushed garlic in nearly everything (except of course - desserts). 

Dried Mushrooms
Tip: All kinds of exotic mushrooms are available dried. They last forever and can be brought back to life with a little hot water. If the mushroom chunks are too large, break apart when they're dry, once they're rehydrated they're tougher to slice. Mushrooms can add flavor to soups, sauces, etc. I love shiitakes!! I picked up a giant bag of dried ones at Costco at a great deal. Also, Asian markets are another great place for dried mushrooms and you'll be able to find a wide variety. 

Flax Meal
Tip: You can buy flax meal in bulk, but it can lose its nutritional potency if left out for too long. I use Bob's Red Mill brand and I keep it in the refrigerator to extend its freshness. Flax meal works great as an egg replacer. I add it to cookies, pancakes, scones, bread, etc. I've even used it in mock-meatloaf. It has a wonderful rich nutty flavor and is a great source for fiber and Omega 3 fatty acids. If you have issues with wheat, this is a safe alternative as well. 

Kalamata Olives
TIP: I get these at Costco in a GIANT jar and the price for one jar is about what you'd pay for a tiny jar at Zupans. These little olives are great in hummus, sauces and as pizza toppings. 

Margarine (Vegan)
TIP: I use Earth Balance brand; which is available in tubs and sticks (which is great for baking). This product is the perfect substitute for butter in any recipe. The margarine works great for sauces, soups, scones, cookies, dumplings, breads, etc. 

Tip: The darker the miso paste the stronger and saltier the taste. This stuff is filled with all kinds of nutrients and can add a nice kick to soups, spreads, marinades, sautés, dips, dressing, etc. Keep in mind that if you boil miso, then you will lose a lot of its nutrients. Add to soups at the very end of the cooking process. You can dissolve it in a little bit of warm water and then add it to the soup broth. 

Nori Flakes
TIP: These dried flakes of seaweed are not only nutritious but they are filled with a wonderful flavor. You can buy these at an asian market such as Uwajimaya. I love to use these flakes as a topping for soups (such as miso or wonton) or as part of a marinade for tofu and tempeh. 

Olive Oil
TIP: Never buy olive oil that comes in a plastic container; not only does it ruin the flavor but it can potentially be bad for you. I get the cold-press extra virgin olive oil from Trader Joes; around 10 bucks for a tall bottle.

Oyster Sauce (Vegan)
TIP: You can buy this through Food Fight or an Asian Grocery (my favorite is Uwajimaya - I LOVE this supermarket and they have an online store too). This is my newest secret ingredient. This stuff tastes amazing on kale, beet greens, collard greens and swiss chard. Just saute the greens with olive oil, then add a nice size dash or two the oyster sauce (you can add a couple of dashes of mushroom soy sauce for a saltier flavor). 

TIP: You can get a giant container at Costco or you can even buy it in bulk; either way is cheaper than the grocery store spice aisle. Paprika is rich in flavor and gives a nice zip to soups, stroganoffs, sauces, tacos, dips, dal, etc. 

Sea Salt
TIP: No need to buy an expensive salt grinder, you can buy sea salt in a container that has a twist top that grinds the salt. I've gotten them at both Costco and Trader Joes

Soy Milk
TIP: If you hate the taste of soy milk, try starting off with vanilla. However, if you plan on cooking with it, use plain unless you're making a dessert. Other milk substitutes such as rice and almond are wonderful as well. I get mine in bulk at Costco (they sell the organic type), but you can also get a great deal at Trader Joes. Silk makes an incredibly yummy soy milk too. Use soy milk in place of cow's milk (a.k.a cow puss) in any recipe. 

Sun Dried Tomatoes
TIP: I get these at Costco in a GIANT jar for approximately 7 bucks. They don't carry them year round, so stock up when they have them. Sun dried tomatoes are packed with flavor and can add zip to hummus, spreads, dips, sauces, etc.

TIP: Tamari has a salty, nutty flavor that can be used in a variety of dishes/recipes. It's not the same as soy sauce and is similar to Bragg's Amino Acid. Although I use both, I typically lean more towards Tamari because it tastes less salty (at least to me).  Tamari can add flavor to stir fries, sautés, soups, dips, sauces, etc. If your soup broth tastes a little bland, add a few shakes of tamari to bring out the flavor. 

Teriyaki Sauce
TIP: I like the one from Trader Joes that contains sesame seeds. Asian markets are another great place for tasty, inexpensive teriyaki sauce. Just a little can add a lot of flavor to mock meat loaf, marinades and veggies. 

I'll keep adding to this list....more to come.