Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vegan in Bulgaria

I already blogged about my food experiences in Eastern Europe over at Vegansaurus, much to my delight, so now I just want to share some of my favorite pictures from the trip. Though it may betray a certain naivete about the way that teh internets work, I'm disinclined to post these photos on facebook. I am actually disinclined in general to post any pictures to facebook, though I realize this is minority opinion. I'm not criticizing those folks; it's just not my way. Instead, I want to showcase just a few of the best ones here, so that my friends and loved ones and anyone interested who follows my blog can check them out. If you don't already read Vegansaurus--I'm a guest blogger now!--you should check out my pics below and then head over to their site. Now to the pics. And bear in mind that I was there for two weeks and visited five cities. As a photographer, I am the very soul of restraint.

View from our hotel in Bansko.

Could this scene look any more Eastern European? Oh, except for me standing there.

The central square fountain in Plovdiv.

Coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. I actually know how to order this in Bulgarian.

Underground ruins in Plovdiv. I framed this shot carefully, so you can't see all the cigarette butts, plastic bags, and soda cans.

A very old ampitheater, also in Plovdiv, where they still have live performances. Not when we were there, obviously, unless you count a random American girl who belted out "Amazing Grace" while standing on the stage.
A guy selling nuts outside the Bachkovo Monastery. If you're familiar with Elizabeth Kostova's novel, The Historian, then you've read about this place. I couldn't get a good shot of the monastery itself because they don't allow photography inside the walls, so just imagine some Eastern Orthodox priests milling around behind me, carrying incense and chanting. It WAS Easter, after all.

After a long day of walking, I found a little peace at this bar with a lovely, completely empty, lilac-surrounded beer garden. I don't think my picture really captures the soft, filtering sunlight, and it definitely doesn't capture the bird sounds and the gentle, lilac-scented breeze.  It really was a little piece of heaven.

So....why do they call it the Black Sea? This is the beach in Burgas (sometimes spelled Bourgas). It was much chillier on the coast than further inland, which seemed a little counter-intuitive to people from a mountain state in the U.S. In the summer, by all accounts, this place is slamming with tourists and locals.

When you see a statue of Pushkin, you take a picture of it. I don't make the rules.

Downtown Burgas. It was drizzly for most of the time we were there, but the town was lovely.

The valley and fortress of Tsaravets in Veliko Turnovo. Impressive, right?

Pirouetting on castle turrets can be hazardous to your health.

Ruins, fortress, blah blah blah.

The Bulgarian peasants were extremely grateful to their Soviet liberators. 

That's it! Well, not really. I have loads more pics, but I tried to choose judiciously. My next post will be about food. I promise.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chili Dogs!

 Sometimes, dear readers, you just have to unleash your inner  junk food fanatic--that (not so) tiny corner of your psyche that would like to subsist year round on waffle fries and funnel cake. You know the one I mean. On such occasions, you could do substantially worse than to throw that fanatic a fat plate of messy, delicious chili dogs. If you're psycho, like I am, you will mitigate the unhealthiness of such a meal by using sprouted wheat hot dog buns and almost fat-free vegan chili. You can then make up for the lack of fat by dousing the whole thing with shredded vegan cheese. Then you will take another three steps back and serve them with a fresh, raw cabbage salad rather than cheese-fries or nachos. That's how it is when you try to have an adult conversation with your inner, screaming toddler. You're doing the right thing, and that toddler is howling its head off, demanding cheesy poofs. At such moments, you should just shut up and serve the chili dogs. Nobody, not even a petulant, psychically-insufferable rugrat, can talk with a mouth full of chili dog. Here's how it's done:

First, make the chili. You could, of course, just buy a can of chili. But I can almost guarantee that it won't be as good as what I'm about to describe. Also, canned chili is kinda 'spensive. And kind of crap. And it comes in a can, which is totally lame. Why not make your own?

Chili for Dogs

1 c tvp, dry
1 c lentils, dry
1 veggie broth cube--I could reasonably be accused of an over-reliance on these.
3 c water
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1 8 oz can tomato sauce (shit! I was just making fun of cans)
2 T dried oregano
1 T chili powder
1 T chipotle chili powder (or less, if you're a bit of a ninny)

In a large pot, saute onion and pepper in a bit of olive oil until just translucent. Add spices, tvp, and lentils. Saute one minute more. Add broth cube, tomato sauce, and water and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and cover. Cook for about half an hour, checking frequently. As with the Mexican lentil recipe, the recipe for which is shockingly similar to the above, you may need to add a bit more water toward the end to keep it from sticking. Just go with the flow. You can't mess this up. It's impossible.

Hopefully, you started the chili no more than 45 minutes to an hour before you wanted to eat. If you decided to be a super chili-overachiever, and you thought you'd get out ahead of this whole chili dog affair by starting first thing in the morning, then at this point you'll need to cool the chili and reheat it before you want to eat. Try not to be too rough on yourself. We've all been there. About 15 minutes before you want to eat, preheat your oven to 450. You now need to assemble your chili dogs.

Chili Dogs!

1 pkg vegan hot dogs--I strongly recommend the Yves brand. I don't like the texture of Tofu Pups and the Lightlife brand products frequently contain egg whites, whereas Yves is reliable vegan. Support vegan businesses!

hot dog buns--Like I said, we used a sprouted variety, but any vegan kind will do.
Vegenaise--or your favorite egg- and dairy-free mayo
1 batch chili, obvs
shredded vegan cheese--I used Follow Your Heart because I had some left over from another recipe. I think you all know that my heart actually belongs to Daiya.
tabasco--This is really only necessary if you're making them for someone like C, who now eats freaking EVERYTHING with tabasco. I might bake some into his next birthday cake. That'll teach him.

Assemble. Split the buns open, with a knife if necessary, and arrange on a baking sheet. Let these heat up in the oven and toast slightly for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread the bottom buns with a smear of vegenaise and top with a hot dog. You could even use two hot dogs per bun if you wanted to be totally crazy. I also split the hot dogs length-wise to maximize the chili-to-hot dog ratio in each bite, but you do what you want. Slather the dogs in chili and sprinkle generously with cheese. Pop the dogs under your broiler for just a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Having enjoined you on multiple past occasions to watch anything you put under the broiler like a freaking hawk, I won't repeat those warnings here. Because you know how dangerous broilers can be. Really, turn your back for just one second and all of your labors could transform into a stinking, charred mess. But you know this.

We ate these with the aforementioned coleslaw because we're crazy for crucifers. If you aren't similarly hampered, perhaps some tater tots? C reminds me to mention that he particularly enjoyed his with some pickle relish. 

Next Up: Pictures from Bulgaria, whether you want to see them or not!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mexican Lentils

 I have been living in a lentil desert, dear readers, and I didn't even realize it. I'm tempted to claim some kind of temporary insanity for completely forgetting--for months (MONTHS!) on end--how much I love them. Now, on the heels of this relentless pining for foods flavored with chili powder, a malady from which I've suffered ever since I returned from the wilds of Eastern Europe (pics are coming! I swear.), I've rediscovered them. The following recipe is simple, hearty, and delicious, if mildly unsurprising. Oh, and healthy! And relatively cheap! It has many good qualities. Basically, this came about because I wanted taco salad. C and I try to avoid eating lots of chips--not because we don't love them, but because we do...too much, so I have long had my own spin on this familiar dish. My version involves one or two types of smokey protein, like refried or stewed beans and taco-seasoned veggie crumbles, layered on a bed of blanched kale and topped with tomatoes, raw onions, cheese, avocado, sour cream, salsa, etc. Somewhere in this planning phase, I remembered our friend, the humble, hard-working lentil, and I realized that some nicely-seasoned lentils would be a perfect stand-in for our usual bean and tvp combo. And I was so right. Have these like we did in a taco salad, using whatever configuration you prefer. Or you could eat them on tostadas. Or even as a hearty dip. Or in burritos. Or even by themselves.

Mexican Lentils

1 1/2 c uncooked brown lentils
3 c water
1 cube veggie broth
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 T garlic powder
3 T chili powder
1 T basil
1 T marjoram
olive oil

In a medium saucepot, saute pepper and onion just until a bit translucent. Add the lentils and spices, and cook one minute more. Add the water and broth cube. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and cover. Cook for about 30 minutes, until lentils are soft. Adjust seasonings as necessary. You may find as the lentils are cooking that they need a bit more water. This is mostly a function of how hot your stove is. Fear not. Just add a bit more water to keep them from burning. 

Up next: Chili Dogs. Holy shit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tostadas and Carrot Soup

Are you feeling the lack of posts, dear readers? Maybe just the tiniest bit? Rest assured that being so remiss takes its toll in myriad little ways. Since returning from Bulgaria just over a week and a half ago--or so, it was something like that, but now the time is all mushing together into a gigantic ball of things I'm supposed to do but haven't yet, I've made exactly one meal worth blogging about. And, really, the meals of note increase in direct proportion to the amount of time I am not working or otherwise engaged. Hint: If you have a vested interest in seeing more blogs per month from me, the most efficacious possible strategy would be to make it so that C gets a killer job making six figures in his chosen field. Should this happen. I will happily and gleefully rest on my laurels and spend the foreseeable future writing about veganism and food and politics and horror films. It sounds like heaven. So make it happen, okay? Okay?

Until then, I want to tell you about one meal I made that was, if I do say so myself, pretty damned good. In general, if I'm going to the trouble of making soup, particularly one that involves the blender in any capacity whatsoever, I'm inclined to let the rest of the meal kind of coast. I'll throw in some beans, steam up a kettle of kale, and call it a day. When I cooked up the plan for this carrot soup, though, I wanted to do a little something extra. It may be because while I was in Bulgaria, I started fiending for tortilla soup in a way that wasn't assuaged until I returned and made a big pot of it. As maybe a hangover of that impetus, I decided to fit the sweetness of the roasted carrots in this soup into a general theme of Mexican deliciousness.

Roasted Carrot Soup 2.0 (without cashews, cuz who needs 'em?)

2 lbs carrots, washed--about 8-10 carrots
1 medium sweet onion
sea salt
black pepper
garlic powder (optional)
3 cubes veggie broth
6-7 cups water
3-4 T dried basil
1 T dried mustard
olive oil

Preheat oven to 375. Slice carrots and onion thinly, then spread them on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive and oil and sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes or until tender throughout, checking and stirring frequently. Process carrots with some of the water until smooth, working in batches as necessary. Collect processed carrots in a soup pot. Add remaining water, veggie broth cubes, basil, and mustard. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Adjust seasonings and thickness (by adding water) as necessary.

This recipe made enough soup for us to eat over three days, and, with the magical property belonging to all soups worth their salt, it only got better with time. On the first day, though, we had this soup with Lazy Tostadas (recipe follows) and some sauteed red cabbage because we are seriously, unrepentantly manic about our cruciferous veggies.

Lazy Tostadas

Corn tortillas
Refried beans
Prepared taco filling
Canola oil
Shredded vegan cheese (I used Follow Your Heart)

Preheat oven to 400. Brush tortillas with a thin coat of canola oil and bake until just crispy. They're going back in the oven, so no need to get super aggro about their crispness. You want them a little underdone at this point. Spread each tortilla with some refried beans, then top with taco filling, salsa, and cheese--in that order. Slide the tostadas under the broiler for just a few minutes, until the cheese gets melty. (Be vigilant at this stage! Broilers are useful, but if you're not careful, they will mess you up.) Let the tostadas cool slightly, then top with sliced avocados and serve.

Also, I'll put up a post soon with some of the highlights of my trip, including food pictures. Why would I go all the way to Eastern Europe and not take photos of what I was putting into my face?