Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mock Tuna (Chickpea) Salad

In the veganverse, a recipe for mock tuna salad may seem just a touch like reinventing the wheel. You know, everybody has their own recipe and is convinced that it's the best, but we're mostly dealing with slightly modified configurations of the same basic ingredients. Nevertheless, for those of you who haven't yet waded into the fecund waters of mock tuna, I offer my own variation on the theme. C and I like to eat this in the summer when neither of us feels particularly inclined to cook. I make up a huge batch, and we eat it for days. My sister recently asked me if I gave some away to friends when we had had all we could eat. I assured her that she dramatically underestimated the dent that C and I can put in a veritable shit-ton (technical term, excuse the jargon) of chickpea salad. We like to eat it tucked into tortillas with mounds of fresh, crunchy salad. I wasn't feeling super creative yesterday, so all this consisted of was green lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. When I'm more on my game, the salad might also involve things like sliced radishes, bell peppers, capers, and the like. On a similar subject, I think C and I are probably single-handedly supporting the folks over at the Ezekial bakery. Ever since we discovered the flourless sprouted grain tortillas, we've been eating them several times a week. If you decide to bite our style and pick up some of these to go with your mock tuna salad, I strongly recommend tearing them into fourths and making sort of mini-tacos out of them. The flourless thing is super healthy and very tasty, but it doesn't lend much in the bending department.

Also, these directions use dried chickpeas. Personally, I only use canned beans in conditions of duress or extreme laziness or poor planning. For what you get, they're kind of expensive, frequently packed in some kind of preservative, and have the added annoyance of the packaging. Dried beans, on the other hand, are probably the best available bang for your vegan protein buck. Buy them bulk for that extra special feeling of environmentally-savvy self-righteousness and save even more money while you're at it. As an added bonus, cooked beans freeze beautifully, so I like to prepare them in huge batches and freeze whatever I'm not using right away. The next time I want beans, I just grab a container from the freezer and dump them into my soup or thaw them in the fridge for my next mega-batch of mock tuna salad. With all that said, of course you can use canned beans. Scale the recipe down accordingly.

One final note, it may be sort of misnomer to call this a recipe when it's really more of a method. Experiment with other ingredients if you're feeling crazy (cayenne, anyone?) or just adjust the proportions to your own taste.

Mock Tuna Salad--To feed an army (or C and I)

3 lbs dried organic chickpeas
5 stalks celery
2 large pickles
pickle juice (right from the jar, folks)
3-4 T prepared mustard
1/2 - 1 c vegenaise (depending on your fatty quotient)
1 T kelp powder
1/4 c nutritional yeast
4 T Braggs amino acids

The night before, put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water. You want at least three inches of water over the top of the peas because they swell a LOT. In fact, funny story: The night I was soaking these particular beans, C just happened to be up late and heard a bizarre popping sound. He eventually discovered that the source of the sound was the chickpeas cracking as they absorbed the water. Weird, right? Anyway, the next day, whenever you get around to it or at least two and a half hours before you want to eat, drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a large stockpot. Do NOT use the soaking water for boiling. Cover with fresh water and bring to a boil. Skim the foam off the surface of the water, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the chickpeas are tender, probably 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Allow to cool, then scoop half the beans into containers and freeze for next time. Pat yourself on the back for being so forward-thinking and frugal.

Dump the remaining beans into a large, sturdy bowl. Mash the beans with a large mallet or potato masher or whatever's handy. Whenever I mash beans, I miss our friend Keith from Buffalo who was seriously the best bean masher ever. He would patiently, stolidly, demolish the beans until not a single whole bean remained. I weep a little when I think about how awesome it was. Maybe you have a bean masher in your life. If you do, don't take him/her for granted. Treasure every moment like it's your last. It may very well be. When your beans are suitably demolished, mix in all the other ingredients and adjust the seasoning to taste. I would add the pickle juice last in whatever quantities you desire. Full disclosure? I use a lot. I like the moistness the juice lends to the salad, and I think it can stand in for a lot of the fat that I would otherwise rely on. Just go easy with the juice/vegenaise proportions until you find one pleasing to your pallet. And seriously, you can't screw this stuff up. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Feed Me!

I don't mean to blow my own horn, beloved readers, but I'm a pretty good cook. Not the best, but definitely not the worst, if you know what I mean. I'm convinced that at least part of the reason that people seem to like my food is that I enjoy making it. Whatever I saute or bake, braise or broil, bake or flambe comes from a place of pleasure and love. This is not to say that I have no darkness in my life, but rather that I do my best to keep it out of the kitchen. Still, as much as I enjoy cooking and feeding people, sometimes there is nothing more delightful than being on the receiving end of that transaction. Today I want to tell you about two things I ate that I didn't make.

C and I just got home from a weekend stay in San Francisco with my dad and stepmom. We had a lovely time, and I plan to write a bit about our adventures eating in one of the least vegan-friendly areas of the city. Seriously, to spend much time in Fisherman's Wharf is to forget that there are foods that don't come either breaded and fried or drenched in cream sauce and served in a bread bowl. Don't worry, dear readers, I didn't drink that particular Kool-Aid. (There was no vodka in it, anyway.)

The lighting was bad, okay? It was a bar.
Instead, at the end of the visit, we rounded off our weekend with a trip to Patxi's, the now famous Bay Area pizza chain that has set the universe on its head by making a vegan deep dish pizza. I thought it would be good, reader. I didn't know how good. We ate at the location in Noe Valley while the U.S. women's soccer team was being defeated by the Japanese team. Toward the end of our stay, people were slumping out of the place, with that not-so-subtle air of quiet disappointment common in sports fans whose teams have lost. In the midst of their defeat, however, I was elated. Well, not elated. I was staring greedily, with a thin line of drool linking my quivering chin to my empty plate, at the last piece of pizza. You see, we went to Patxi's with two friends of ours who had already staked the place out, knew the pizza to be as good as it is, and who already had established the baseline limit for how much of it to consume in one sitting. Since it was C and I's first time there, we had no such limits. Perhaps "normal" for us would be three pieces per sitting, rather than our friends' usual one to one and a half. It wouldn't be the first time we went above and beyond. C and I always try to go above and beyond. Fortunately, the 14" pie only had 8 pieces--2 per person. Only shame kept me from diving face first into the final piece, after our friends had made their way through 3 combined.

This the shape my dreams will take from now on.

Our pizza was a whole wheat Chicago style pie, which, if memory serves, is a layer of crust, topped by sauce, toppings (artichokes, mushrooms, spinach, and garlic), cheese (Daiya!), another layer of crust, and more sauce. It sounds good and tastes even better. It ain't cheap. That 14 inches of sheer, orgasmic vegan pizza indulgence cost more than $30. But, wow, so so so good. I've already promised to take my sister there when next she visits again.

This pic is also dark because I was too lazy to move to better lighting.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful salad that C made last night. I know I make it sound like I do absolutely all of the cooking around here, but it isn't so. I only do about 70-75 percent. C may quibble with that percentage,  but last night he made a veganized, super-healthy waldorf-style salad with blanched kale, raw apples, toasted walnuts, Field Roast sage sausages, and avocado. It was wonderful. I'm including a picture just so you know how lucky I am.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bon Voyage Cake

These cakes send the wrong message. These are happy cakes, but they mark a sad occasion. Well, not sad, exactly. More mixed. Our friend Diana is planning a move in the nearby future away from her pastoral, suburban home in Sonoma County back to the bustle and glamor of San Francisco. C and I--much, much, much to our chagrin--can't move with her, so instead we brought these cakes to her going away party. She requested Mexican Hot Chocolate and Red Velvet, so that's what she got. The layer cake is red velvet with cream cheese frosting--both recipes doubled and adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. The Cupcakes are Mexican hot chocolate from the same book, but the frosting is a definite deviation. Here's what I did:

Tequila Lime Buttercream

1/2 c vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance, like always)
3 c organic powdered sugar
1 t sea salt
2 T tequila
1 T freshly squeezed lime juice
zest from one lime

Whip margarine. Add sugar and blend for 3-4 minutes. Add salt, tequila, and lime juice. Whip for 7 minutes or until you are outrageously bored. Just don't get bored too soon, or your frosting will suck and I won't feel sorry for you. Fold in lime zest and adjust flavors as necessary. One more note about this frosting: Use it sparingly. If you're spreading it on cupcakes, like I did, you only need a thin layer. The tequila/lime/salt combination packs a flavor punch, in Food Network lingo, and will easily overpower subtler (read "wimpier") flavors.

Friday, July 8, 2011

World's Fussiest Salad (But Worth It)

An alternative title for this particular salad might be something along the lines of Most Labor-Intensive Salad Ever. I won't lie. As I was making this, over the course of several hours on a lovely summer afternoon, with the birds chirping outside and a breeze rustling the trees, I grumbled. Had the salad not ended up meeting and surpassing my expectations with its deliciousness, I would still be grumbling. Instead, I woke up this morning with the self-satisfied complacency that can only come after successfully crafting a complicated salad. It's a very rewarding experience. And if you have, say, three or four hours to spend on it, give it a try. This recipe makes a very large salad. We took ours to a Flamenque barbecue with lots of people, and we aren't sad to have a little left over for lunch today. There are three parts to this recipe: 1) The salad itself, the vinaigrette, and the spiced walnuts. You can really make them in any order, but do allow time for the walnuts to cool before adding them to the salad. It's also important to let the salad soak in the vinaigrette for a while before serving. It makes it just that much more delicious.

World's Fussiest Salad (But Worth It)

1 bunch curly kale--sliced thinly
1/2 head red cabbage--sliced thinly
1 red pepper--julienne (bust out those knife skills!)
1 cup cooked and cooled wild rice
1 mango--diced
1 pint strawberries--sliced

First, blanch the kale. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then remove from heat. Add kale to the water for a minute or two. The amount of time the kale needs to spend in the water depends entirely on the tenderness of the leaves. If the kale gods were smiling down on you when you selected that particular bunch, the kale may need only a quick dip in the water to soften it slightly and brighten it to that lovely shade of green. If the kale gods were off smiling down on someone else while you were selecting your bunch, the leaves may need to stay in rather longer. Just check the leaves frequently. When they reach the desired level of tenderness, dump them into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Allow the kale to cool a bit, then combine kale, cabbage, red pepper, rice, mango and strawberries in a large bowl and toss to combine.

Citrusy Garlic Vinaigrette

1 head garlic--roasted
2 valencia oranges
1 lemon
1/3 c olive oil
pinch salt
1 t whole black peppercorns

Squeeze roasted garlic into a blender. Yes, the whole head. Don't be such a wimp. Press the juice out of the lemon and oranges and add that to the blender. Add salt. Puree until smooth. With the blender running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Toss in peppercorns and blend again. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Spiced Walnuts

2 T vegan margarine
1 t chili powder
1 1/2 c whole raw walnuts

In a small frying pan, melt margarine. Add chili powder and stir well to combine. Add walnuts and stir to coat. Toast on low heat until walnuts start to brown. Cool thoroughly.

Pour vinaigrette over the assembled salad and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Before serving, sprinkle liberally with spiced walnuts.