Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Butternut Squash Saag

Rachel and I made Butternut Squash Saag tonight--an Indian inspired dish.  Again, it's great to have something spiced and warm to eat on a cold, rainy day.  You could also use pumpkin or some other squash in this recipe, depending on your preferences.   

I've decided to start incorporating pictures into my blog, so here's the final product!

I'll have to keep working on my food photography since food is notoriously difficult to capture on camera; but, I think this picture captures the beautiful colors in the dish quite nicely! 

Butternut Squash Saag

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or peanut oil
  • 1 large onion, diced finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 teaspoons garam masala (if you don't have this, mix together cumin, coriander, cardamom, pepper, cloves, and nutmeg--this will come close!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced finely
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach (approximately 2 bunches), washed and chopped coarsely
  • juice of 1/2 lime

First, prepare the squash.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Using a strong knife and a careful hand, cut the squash in half lengthwise.  Remove the seeds and seed-goo with a spoon.  Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish and fill the dish with about an inch of water.  Bake for 45 minutes, until you can easily insert a fork into the flesh.  Once the squash is baked, let it cool completely before peeling away the skin and chopping it into 1-inch chunks.
Next, move on the the rest of the dish.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes until everything is lightly brown.  Add the squash and continue cooking for a few minutes until the mixture is heated through.  Add the spices, salt, and ginger.  Stir the mixture and add the water.  Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  You can mush up the squash a bit if you'd like smaller pieces, but do leave some pieces chunky.  Add the spinach in batches, stirring well between additions.  Cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the lime juice, and enjoy! 

I had never had Butternut Squash Saag before, but it was worth the try!  The dish wasn't spicy (though you could add more cayenne to change this); instead, it was pleasantly spiced and gave off a nice aroma.  Plus, as I mentioned before, the colors were great.  This dish appeals to many senses!  We didn't serve the saag over rice, though you could do so to add more bulk.

Rachel was also pleasantly surprised by the saag.  She thought the flavor combination was unexpected and unlike other dishes she has had in the past.  She (and I) thought we could've cooked the squash a bit longer, but that is easily remedied.

Time-saving note: I cooked the squash one day in advance to avoid a really extended prep time tonight, and I think that was a great move.  If you decide to cook the squash in advance, just make sure you let it cool, cover it in plastic wrap or put it in a sealed container, and refrigerate it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Saucy Chickpeas

Tonight I made a recipe that is new to this blog but not to our apartment.  We made these saucy chickpeas once before; we liked them enough to make them again!  The recipe is a Mediterranean blend of chickpeas and sauce that can be served with rice and vegetables.   

Saucy Chickpeas

  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 - 28oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 2 red peppers
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 2 - 15oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • salt and pepper to taste

Roast the red peppers:  preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cut the peppers in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, coat lightly with a total of about a teaspoon of olive oil, place on a lightly greased baking sheet, and roast for about 22 minutes until the skin is dark in spots.  You could also buy roasted red peppers.  (In that case, you would only need a total of 3 tablespoons olive oil for the recipe.)
Grind the almonds into a fine powder using a food processor and set aside.    
Puree the tomatoes and roasted red peppers until smooth, working in multiple batches if necessary.  Set aside.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, shallots, and jalapeno and sauté until the shallots begin to turn golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Pour in the vegetable broth, stir, and heat for another minute.  Add the tomato/pepper puree, vinegar, sugar, thyme, and rosemary and heat until just boiling.  Then simmer at medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the almonds and chickpeas.  Simmer the mixture, uncovered, for about 25 minutes until the sauce has reduced a bit.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve.

We ate the chickpeas over brown rice.


There are a couple important, "secret" ingredients in this dish: roasted red peppers and almonds.   The roasted red peppers really make the dish, adding a smoky flavor to the sauce.  The almonds thicken up the sauce and add substance.  The result is a hearty, savory, saucy mixture  The dish definitely isn't one of the most exciting or complex dishes in existence, but it does provide a filling, tasty, low-fat meal.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

Happy Birthday David!  My brother turns 25 this week so he and his girlfriend were home to celebrate today.  I made his birthday cake at the last minute.  Here's what I made:

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

Chocolate Chip Cake:
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 8oz. (2/3 bag) vegan chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips)

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease a round 9-inch cake pan or muffin tins, and set aside. 

Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Create a well in the center of the dry mixture and add the wet ingredients.  Mix until just combined.  Then, mix in the chocolate chips. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  (Check cupcakes after about 15 minutes.)  Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack. 

Yield: one 9-inch cake.  (Note: If you're making a layer cake, double the recipe.)

Chocolate-Mint Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup vegan margarine
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 3-4 tablespoons water or soymilk

Cream the margarine in a stand mixer until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and cream for 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on high until well combined and smooth (about 3 minutes).  Once the cake is cool, frost and enjoy!

This cake has a lot going for it.  The chocolate chips provide extra-chocolatey bites throughout the cake and the chocolate-mint frosting has a really fresh taste.  The cake tastes (and looks) a lot like a Thin Mint--remember those Girl Scout cookies? 

The cake was a hit.  David thought it was one of the best vegan baked goods I've served him--very exciting!  He thought it was a satisfying dessert.  The cake was about room temperature when we ate it, but it's also great a day later once it has been refrigerated.  I am generally partial to day-old cake so I'm looking forward to the leftovers.

Sautéd Spinach and Tomatoes

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope everyone had delicious meals yesterday.  I actually had two Thanksgiving meals: lunch with my extended family at my grandmother's farm in Pennsylvania and dinner with Simon's family.  What could be better?

My family's Thanksgiving meal is always organized as a pot-luck.  I was in charge of bringing a green vegetable, so I made sautéd spinach and tomatoes.  Everyone loved the dish, so it's definitely worth a try! 

Sautéd Spinach and Tomatoes

  •  1 bunch spinach (about 6 cups loosely packed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4-1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 plum tomatoes, cut into pieces a little smaller than a 1/2 inch dice
  • juice of a half lemon

Preheat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions and garlic for 3 minutes and add the salt.  Add the tomatoes and continue sautéing until the moisture from the tomatoes begins to release.  Add the spinach and cook until wilted.  (If the mixture dries up too quickly, add splashes of water to keep everything from burning).  Remove from heat, sprinkle with lemon juice, and serve.
Serves four.  

The pine nuts are a really nice addition to this simple spinach dish.  They add a toasty flavor and a nice crunch.  Pine nuts are usually pretty pricey, though, so feel free to leave them out if you'd like.

As I mentioned above, this dish was quite popular among my extended family; I received numerous compliments.  Nobody in my extended family is vegetarian--let along vegan--so I assure you that non-vegans will love this dish.  It would also be great at a Christmas meal since it's red and green!  

What tasty vegan dishes did you make for Thanksgiving?  Comment below if you'd care to share.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lentil Veggieballs

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I decided to try a recipe from the New York Times' Well's Vegetarian Thanksgiving recipe series tonight.  (There are a ton of good recipes on the site.  I'd definitely recommend checking it out!)  I made the lentil veggieballs--also known as a vegan version of meatballs.  Follow this link to the original recipe for the balls: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/11/01/health/20111101_vegetarian_thanksgiving.html#Veggie_Balls, though I'll paste it below in order to include my own additions and veganizations.
Lentil Veggieballs
  • 2 cups lentils
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced (or, if you can't find button mushrooms, use another variety of small, white mushrooms)
  • The equivalent of 3 eggs (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer powder)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

1. Combine the lentils and 2 quarts water in a medium stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.
2. Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil to a large frying pan and sauté the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme and salt over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Add the egg-equivalents, bread crumbs, parsley, walnuts, and cooked lentils to the cooled vegetables and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. Place in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 9- x 13-inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface.
5. Roll the lentil-veggie mixture into round, 1.5 inch balls, making sure to pack the mixture firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, allowing 1/4-inch of space between the balls.
6. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.

Yield: About 2 dozen 1.5-inch meatballs.


The bad news is that this recipe proves my mom right when she says that vegan cooking is labor-intensive.  It definitely took over 2 hours to make the balls from start to finish.  Even though some of that time was down time (cooking the lentils, baking the balls), there was still a lot of chopping involved.  Rachel went out to dinner tonight and Simon worked pretty late, but luckily Rachel arrived home in time to help me out!    

The good news is that this recipe proves me right when I say that vegan cooking is extra nutritious.  These balls replace red meat with a hearty combination of protein-heavy lentils and walnuts along with plenty of vegetable nutrition.  I definitely felt satisfied eating them.

Simon and I ate them as lentil veggieball subs tonight, meaning we put the balls on rolls and topped with tomato sauce.  In my opinion, the lentil veggieballs were pretty good.  Not great, but I'm glad to have tried them and I enjoyed eating them.  They're not very crispy or firm--as I remember meatballs being--but they have a good flavor.  Simon's non-vegan opinion was that they were okay, but he thought they taste more like baked falafel than meatballs.  (Still, he did have seconds.)   

We made extra lentil veggieballs so we can have whole wheat spaghetti and lentil veggieballs tomorrow night.  We plan to make the Well's spinach-basil pesto tomorrow night to go with the spaghetti, so here's the recipe for that:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/11/01/health/20111101_vegetarian_thanksgiving.html#Spinach-Basil_Pesto.  I'll let you all know how the pesto ends up tasting tomorrow night!

Friday, November 18, 2011

(Mostly) Homemade Pizza

Another night, another dinner.  We made pizza tonight.  It was definitely nice to eat something hot out of the oven in contrast to the freezing weather outside!  We used store-bought, refrigerated pizza dough (it comes in one of those awesome tubes that you sort of peel open until it POPs).  We divided the pizza into three sections (one for each of us): my pizza was veggie + vegan sausage; Simon's was veggie + vegan sausage + mozzarella cheese; Rachel's was veggie + cheese.  I'll list all of the ingredients that were involved, but note that they weren't all consumed by all of us.

Vegan Pizza

  • 1 package of refrigerated pizza dough; or, make your own!
  • olive oil for sautéing
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes (or tomato sauce, if you like things less chunky)
  • Other assorted vegetable toppings--mushrooms, olives, broccoli, etc.
  • 1 tube of Gimme Lean vegan sausage, cut up into bite-sized pieces
  • spices (garlic powder, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, etc.) to sprinkle over the top before or after baking
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread the pizza dough on a cookie sheet and pre-bake it for five minutes before putting the sauce and toppings on it.  In the meantime, heat up the oil and garlic in a medium-sized pan (I always heat  garlic along with the oil instead of adding it later--that way, the garlic heats up slowly instead of scorching when added to hot oil).  Add the onion, bell pepper, and other vegetables (if desired) and sauté until everything gets tender and even starts to brown a little bit.  (This isn't a necessary step, but the end result will be tastier if you sauté things first!)  Add the diced tomatoes to complete the sauce mixture.  Once the crust is ready, spread the sauce mixture over the crust, sprinkle the veggie toppings and sausage on top, and add any spices you plan to use.  Bake for about 9-12 minutes. 

This recipe is great for a couple reasons.  First, vegan pizza is definitely healthier (lower-fat) than cheesy pizza, but it's still very satisfying--yes, even without the cheese.  Second, it's great for a vegan/non-vegan group because it's so customizable.

Some people might be suspicious of the vegan sausage, and I don't blame you.  More often than not, I'm very suspicious of meat and dairy substitutes.  For instance, you'll notice that I didn't put any vegan cheese on the pizza.  To me, it's better without.  But, I love vegan sausage.  There's just something about the spices used in it that is actually gustatorily pleasing.  Simon also likes the sausage and chose to put it on his pizza, though Rachel didn't have any.  But again, that's the beauty of pizza!  Anyone can put anything on it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fudgy Brownies

I love brownies.  There are few things better than fudgy, chocolatey squares, and vegan brownies take on those characteristics quite well.  Here's the recipe I usually use:

Fudgy Brownies
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 12 oz. bag of vegan chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stir together the first five ingredients in a large bowl.  Form a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour in the wet ingredients.  Mix until combined and then mix in the chocolate chips, but do not over-mix.  Pour into a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking pan and spread evenly.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick/knife inserted in the center comes out (fairly) clean and the top is no longer shiny.  

As I stated above, I love these brownies.  This is my go-to recipe.  They're really easy to make, especially since there's not a hard-to-find egg replacer involved; the oil takes care of that.  The addition of chocolate chips provides a little extra something when you bite in, too.  They're great right out of the oven, but really, I like them best after they've been refrigerated for a while (and so does Rachel).

Simon and I made these brownies yesterday (Rachel left us alone for no more than 25 minutes when she went to the library, and we couldn't help ourselves).  But, we decided to try out a lower-oil version of the recipe.  We used only 1/2 cup oil and added about 2 tablespoons of unsweetened apple sauce.  The brownies came out well: they were a little more cake-like, but today -- one day later, post-refrigeration -- they're actually pretty fudgy and much denser.  Next time, I might try adding a little more applesauce.  I'll let you know how it goes!

So, how do Rachel and Simon feel about these dairy-free brownies?  Rachel likes the chocolate chips a lot--she likes the variety in texture that they provide--and says the brownies are "absolutely as good as non-vegan brownies."  Score.  Simon must feel the same way, since he's the one who instigated the brownie-making yesterday.   


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tofu and vegetable stir fry with peanut sauce

Dinner on Monday: stir fry.  The beauty of stir fry is that it doesn't require precision (at least, in my experience).  I'll list the recipe below, but you can really use any vegetables or other ingredients you like.

Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup oil (I used canola oil because that's what we had; but, sesame oil would be best)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (we used low-sodium soy sauce)
  • 2 talbespoons water
  • 1/4+ teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • Assorted vegetables--we used a bag of frozen "stir fry vegetables," including snap peas, broccoli, carrots, water chestnuts, red pepper, and more.
  • One package extra-firm tofu, pressed and cubed
Whisk together the first 5 ingredients to create the peanut sauce.  Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat up a small amount of oil over medium-high heat.  Add the tofu and brown it by letting it rest on each side for a few minutes.
Once the tofu looks generally golden brown, add the vegetables.  Heat until warm.
Add the peanut sauce, and heat until warm.

Meanwhile, prepare rice according to the package instructions.  We used brown rice.

Once the rice and stir fry are both ready, serve together.  We also splurged at the grocery store and bought spring rolls, which are always great.  Mmm.

Rachel really liked the stir fry and hopes we make it again.  She also enjoyed the spring rolls, but none of us can take any credit for that :) 

Simon thought using frozen vegetables was a good way to get a variety of vegetables (spoken by someone who likes a frustratingly low number of vegetables...).  He gave dinner 7 thumbs up.

I thought it was very good and very filling.  I'm traditionally not a huge fan of tofu--I wouldn't choose it over some other meat substitutes--but I enjoyed it here.  Browning it is key.  The major benefit of this recipe is that it's quick and low-maintenance (especially when using frozen vegetables).  My mom has noted in the past that vegan cooking requires a lot of prep work, but this recipe is an exception. 

About this blog

Hi everyone!  Welcome to my blog.  I'd like to use my inaugural blog post to give you all some background on my blog and let you know what to expect.

My name is Carol and I've been vegan for just over four years.  My family--including my dad, my mom, my brothers Michael and David, and my sister Emily--has been quite supportive of my vegan diet.  However, I recently moved just outside of Washington, D.C. and I now live with my boyfriend Simon and my good friend Rachel.  We eat most of our dinners together, which has been great.  But, there's one catch: Rachel and Simon are non-vegan, and, in fact, they both like meat.  Thankfully, they're both willing to be "vegan after 6pm," as Rachel says--in other words, we cook vegan meals for dinner.  Sometimes they'll add some cheese or sour cream to a meal, but hey, we're not all vegan.  Dinner is.   

I hope to use this blog to record what we eat for dinner and our reactions to those meals and recipes.  I want to create a resource for anyone looking to cook a vegan meal or bake a delicious vegan dessert.  You're in the right place if you have any interest in veganism or vegan cooking/baking.  You're REALLY in the right place if you are a vegan who lives with or cooks for non-vegans, like I do.

Finally, I'd just like to thank Emily for pushing me to blog!  We'll see how it goes.