Thursday, July 26, 2012

Curried Quinoa Salad

What better way to celebrate summer than by using fresh fruit in a salad?  We made this Curried Quinoa Salad with nectarines and snap peas the other night when a friend came over for dinner, served alongside Simon's Spicy Corn Pakoras.

There are so many delicious components in this salad.

Curried Quinoa Salad
  • 8 ounces frozen sugar snap peas or snow peas, thawed
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder, divided
  • 2.5 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2.5 tablespoons store-bought mango chutney
  • 2.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 nectarines or peaches, each cut into 10 wedges
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves

First, prepare the quinoa.  Bring a medium pot of water to boil over medium-high heat.  Stir the quinoa and 1 tablespoon curry powder into the boiling water and cook for about 14 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender, stirring occasionally. 

While the quinoa cooks, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon curry powder, vinegar, chutney (try to avoid the chunks in the chutney, using the saucy part only), and oil in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Then toss the peas, nectarines, onion, and spinach in a separate large bowl and set aside. 

Once the quinoa is done cooking, drain it, rinse it under cold water until cool, and drain again.  Add the quinoa and dressing to the salad bowl and toss until everything is well coated. 

Season with salt and pepper, if desired, and enjoy.  Serves 4. 

I would gladly eat this unique salad on a regular basis.  The sweet and slightly spicy dressing is a great bridge between the quinoa and the rest of the ingredients.  The inclusion of nectarines really brightens up the dish, and the subtle mango flavor is like icing on the cake. 
We couldn't find fresh snap peas in our grocery store, so we used (thawed) frozen snap peas instead.  It worked quite well: just pop the bag of peas in the fridge when you get home from the store so they can thaw without cooking.  We've had trouble finding quinoa at non-specialty grocery stores in the past, though for the first time this week we actually found it at Giant!
 Ease of Preparation:        
While this dish certainly takes longer to prepare than other salads, it's still quite simple to make.  Prepare, toss, eat!
Non-vegan friendliness:       
As far as salads go, this dish is substantial, interesting, and visually pleasing.  We served this as side dish rather than as a one-pot meal. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spicy Corn Pakoras

Simon here - guest blog time ! Do you remember the kerfuffle about the KFC Double Down? The epitome of American gluttony - Chicken stuffed with pig product and cheese. We should be eating something more refined, like this high-class part of French cuisine. In a similar way, hushpuppies are fried, fatty foods, while the dish here, pakora, is an authentic ethnic treat. 
Fried goodness. There were not this many on the plate at the end of the meal...

Spicy Corn Pakoras

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup fine cornmeal
  • 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (fresh preferred, though we defrosted frozen)
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • Additional vegetable oil, for frying
  • Mango-tamarind chutney (we used store bought, I thought it was pretty delish)
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and turmeric. Set aside.
In a food processor, grind corn kernels to a rough purée. Add purée to flour mixture and stir well to make a stiff batter

Put 4 tablespoons vegetable oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds. When seeds are lightly toasted and begin to pop, add cumin powder and pour mixture into the batter. Add cayenne, cilantro and ginger, and stir well. 

Pour vegetable oil into a cast-iron skillet to a depth of 1 inch. Heat on medium-high until oil looks wavy. Using two large soup spoons, create fritters about the size of a rounded credit-card, working in batches if necessary. Brown gently on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn pakoras and brown on other side, about 2 minutes more. Remove with a slotted spoon or spatula and blot on paper towels. Serve hot with mango-tamarind chutney.

Makes 10-15 pakoras

The corn provides a sweet touch to the savory nature of these fritters. A spicy latke/hushpuppy hybrid, they were a great side dish. I think our frying technique is underdeveloped (I'm sure our arteries thank us), so the crispiness was not quite right. They could have also used a bit more spice, I think.
The basic ingredients - flour, cornmeal, and oil are at every grocery store and probably on hand. Ingredients like mustard seeds may not be worth the special purchase, but you can adjust the flavor to what's in your spice rack if you'd prefer.
 Ease of Preparation:         
The recipe is pretty straightforward. The hardest part is frying, which can be temperamental. Watch out for hot oil popping onto your arm. 
Non-vegan friendliness:        
No adaptations necessary for this recipe, and who doesn't like fried things?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cherry Tomato Focaccia Bread

Hello, loyal readers.  I know I promised to post the salad recipe that goes along with the Spaghetti with Walnuts and Fried Breadcrumbs from last night, but I've decided against it.  It turns out that some things (job applications, for instance) take precedence over blogging about a fairly unexciting salad.

Don't fret, though: I am going to post a delicious focaccia recipe instead. 

What could be better than this?
Cherry Tomato Focaccia Bread
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or another 1.5 cups all purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2.5 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • olive oil, for greasing the baking sheet + 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

First, prepare the dough.  Stir together the flours, sugar, yeast, salt and 1.25 cups water in a large bowl.  Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface and knead with your hands for five minutes.  Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until the dough doubles in size.

Meanwhile, generously grease a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.  Once the dough has risen, stretch the dough into a 12" x 11" rectangle in the pan.  Let rise for another hour.

While the dough is rising, prepare the focaccia topping.  Place the pistachios in a plastic bag and use the back of a spoon to crush them against your counter top (or use a food processor), leaving some larger pieces.  Transfer the pistachios to a small bowl and stir in the olive oil, garlic, and rosemary.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once the dough has risen, dimple the dough with your finger tips.  Whisk 2 tablespoons water into the topping mixture and brush the mixture onto the dough.  Then press the tomato halves cut-side up into the dough.  

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown.  Serves 8. 

The tomatoes, pistachios, and whole wheat dough come together into a hearty, nutty, toasty, yet fresh bite.  The light crust on the top of the focaccia adds a welcome crunch to the thick bread, and each tomato's sweet juiciness is icing on the cake. 
Pistachios should be easy to find--in my experience, they can be found in the bulk section of the grocery store, rather than in the snack nuts section--but they can be expensive.  Whole wheat pastry flour can also be replaced by regular flour for a lighter focaccia bread. 
 Ease of Preparation:        
There's nothing terribly complicated about this recipe, but it does take a long time and require some muscle. 
Non-vegan friendliness:       
"Mmmm!"  That is the sound that non-vegans make when they eat this focaccia bread. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spaghetti with Walnuts and Fried Breadcrumbs

Thanks to my new subscription to Vegetarian Times, we had a pretty easy time finding recipe ideas for this week.  (Potential subscribers should note, though, that Vegetarian Times is far from a magazine called Vegan Times; although, it does have an index in the back which highlights vegan recipes.)

While we had an easy time finding good-looking recipes, I must say that the magazine's recipes use some pretty obscure ingredients.  Ground sumac?  Persian cucumbers?  Let's just say that I altered each recipe in order to veganize it or make it more accessible. 

Anyway, here's what we made on Sunday night:

Spaghetti with Walnuts and Fried Breadcrumbs served with Mediterranean Salad
First I'll provide the recipe for the spaghetti.

Spaghetti with Walnuts and Fried Breadcrumbs
  • 1 package whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup vegan breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

First, cook the spaghetti according to package instructions; drain and return the spaghetti to the pot.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the walnuts and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or until they become aromatic and toasty.  Transfer the nuts to a bowl and set aside.

Add the oil and garlic to the same empty skillet and cook over medium-high heat for one minute.  Then stir in the breadcrumbs and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the breadcrumbs begin to brown. Then remove the skillet from the heat.

Immediately, add the oil mixture and walnuts to the spaghetti pot and heat the pot over medium-high heat, tossing with tongs, for a final 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired, before serving. 

Serves 6.

This pasta dish was good; not great.  It's a little spicy and a little toasty-tasting, and the breadcrumbs and walnuts did add a nice, subtle crunch to the dish.  Still, I would have liked some vegetables in it to add some brighter flavors.  Some fresh tomatoes or steamed peas would've been a nice addition. 
This is a pretty minimal ingredient list.  And remember, parsley freezes well!  So, don't worry too much about buying a whole bunch of parsley just for this dish: you can chop up the rest of it and store it in a plastic bag in the freezer.  
 Ease of Preparation:       
This dish is quick and pretty easy to make. 
Non-vegan friendliness:       
While we did have a non-vegan guest over for dinner who enjoyed the pasta, I wouldn't serve this dish as a main dish again.  Unfortunately, it's not especially filling.
Salad recipe to come...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chocolate Chip Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Happy belated birthday, Simon!  In honor of his twenty-second year of life, I made a Chocolate Chip Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.  The big news here is that I've finally settled on the perfect vegan cream cheese frosting recipe, so I encourage all cream cheese lovers to read on!

Birthday cake!
Chocolate Chip Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate Chip Cake:

Make two 9-inch round cakes by doubling the chocolate chip cake recipe in this blog post:  Once the cakes are out of the oven and cooling, make the frosting. 

Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 6 ounces vegan butter, softened
  • 6 ounces vegan cream cheese (I recommend Tofutti brand), softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter and cream cheese for about 1.5 minutes, or until well combined and fluffy.  Then add the powdered sugar to the bowl and turn the mixer on to the lowest speed.  Slowly beat the frosting until well combined; then, increase the speed and whip the frosting until smooth and creamy.  Finally, beat in the vanilla extract.

Once the cakes are completely cool to the touch, you're ready for frosting.  First, invert one cake pan onto whichever platter you will use for serving.  Tap the pan with your fingers until the cake releases from the pan, and then slowly remove the pan.  This upside-down cake will be the bottom layer of your layer cake. 

To frost the bottom layer, first transfer a small amount of frosting (about 1/3 cup, but feel free to use more) into a small bowl.  (Since this layer of the cake will probably be a bit crumbly on top, I like to do this to prevent getting any cake crumbs in the rest of the frosting.)  Using a rubber spatula, spread that frosting across the top of the cake.  It's ok if the frosting picks up some crumbs since the frosting will soon be covered by the top layer of cake.

Next, invert the second cake pan onto a plate.  Again, tap the pan until the cake releases from the pan onto the plate, and remove the pan.  Then, invert the plate onto the frosted bottom layer of cake, taking care to stack the two in line with one another.  Your layer cake is now assembled!

The next step is to frost the top of the cake.  Again, transfer a small amount of frosting into a small bowl and use your rubber spatula to spread a thin later of frosting over the cake.  Once the top of the cake is covered, re-frost the top of the cake with a thicker layer of frosting.

Finally, frost the sides of the cake by holding your frosting-filled rubber spatula vertically and pulling it along the side of the cake, getting more frosting as needed. 

Feel free to decorate the cake as you see fit.  You could adorn the top with extra chocolate chips, or color some icing and use a small plastic bag to pipe it onto the cake, as I did. 

Yields one 9-inch layer cake.

As I mentioned above, the frosting on this cake is incredible.  It's thick, smooth, fluffy, and sweet.  Simon noted that it's a bit less tangy than non-vegan cream cheese frosting, but I still find it completely satisfying.  Unfortunately, the chocolate chip cake was a little dry this time: I forgot to double the cake recipe, so I ended up over-cooking it a bit.  But, without that mistake, I'm confident this cake would earn four carrots. 
The only ingredient in this recipe that might be difficult to find is the vegan cream cheese.  Luckily, while buying it at Whole Foods yesterday, I noticed that it has a very long shelf life (when unopened), so I stocked up. 
 Ease of Preparation:       
As with any cake, this recipe takes a while and requires several specific tools (electric mixer, rubber spatula, cake pan).
Non-vegan friendliness:       
Without question, this is a tasty cake; but, as I mentioned above, Simon felt that the cream cheese frosting didn't quite live up to non-vegan cream cheese frosting.  The taste is just a bit different.   

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grilled Coconut-Crusted Pineapple

In true D.C.-in-the-summertime style, it was blazing hot outside over the weekend.  Luckily, Simon and I were able to escape to the beach.  We spent three days on Long Beach Island with my family, and it was really nice to relax and spend some time away from the sweltering swamp (or, I should say, tidal plain) that is D.C.

We had tons of delicious summer foods on the shore (think grilled sweet corn and watermelon), but one of my favorite dishes was actually a dessert.  We had dinner with Simon's dad one night and he prepared us some delicious Grilled Coconut-Crusted Pineapple.  I'm not sure what the exact recipe was, though I do know he coated the pineapple with honey and toasted coconut flakes; so, here's a pretty close version I found online:

We served it alongside coconut sorbet for a sweet, hot and cold, melt-in-your-mouth dessert.  Yum!