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Posts tagged vegetarian

Mar 12

12 - fantastic fried rice

I’ve spent many of my cooking years trying to get a good grasp on Chinese cooking, with lackluster results nearly every time. (And from those pursuits the only totally inedible meal I have ever served my husband. Before I even tried to serve it I knew it was the ultimate disaster in terms of texture and bland misbalanced flavor.) First of all, I have trouble following recipes. I guess I’m a recipe anarchist, I always feel the need to alter, edit, or add to every recipe I come across. Add to that the fact that I have always had a hard time with chinese cooking - the combination of salty and sour and sweet is a delicate balance - and I always screwed it up by trying to do my own thing. The one regret I have from culinary school is that I didn’t take the Cuisines of China class. I simply avoided what I assumed would be a failure for me.

But recently, I received this book as a gift, and it has changed my life. Beautiful photographs, accessible recipes and ingredients, easy to follow directions. Probably for the first time in my life I measured ingredients. I measured, guys! I read the Sun Tak fried rice recipe, and then I made it a handfull of times in a row. Like 6 days in a row. I made it with roast pork, with veggies, with tofu, all with delicious results. I adapted the main ingredients to fit my needs, but I actually measured, teaspoon by teaspoon, the sauce ingredients because the results were a perfect fried rice, every time. Then I adapted it (every so slightly) to my tastes, only after following it word for word so many times that I really understood the balance of flavors. 

My friend Kim came over for dinner this week and I made us veggie fried rice. And potstickers (one of the few Chinese recipes I’ve managed to create, without fail, for years. Remember how I love a filled treat?) This makes enough for a solid 4 servings, so every time I make it I get leftovers for breakfast (with a fried egg on top - yum!) and meals for my little Henry as well.

Veggie Fried Rice
adapted from The Chinese Kitchen 
makes 4 servings

  • 1-1/2 cups long grain rice, rinsed thoroughly (until the water runs clear) and drained
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups quartered shiitake mushrooms (or crimini if you can’t find shiitakes)
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cups sliced bok choy, stems and leaves separated
  • 1.5 tsp minced fresh ginger (use a microplane, it’s the easiest)
  • 1.5 tsp minced garlic (microplane, again)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3-4 tbsp vegetable oil or peanut oil
For the sauce:
  • 2 tbsp chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1.5 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil 
  • fresh ground pepper

Combine your sauce ingredients and set aside. Bring your water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add the rice. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked - but not mushy. You want an ever so slight bite to it. Remove from heat, uncover and set aside to cool slightly.

Be sure to prep all of your ingredients ahead of time and line them up on the counter. Stir frying foods is quick work, and you can easily burn it and ruin the whole dish if you aren’t ready to keep moving with the next step.

Add a tbsp of oil to a large skillet or a wok if you have one. Over high heat, sear your mushrooms until they are lightly caramelized. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Next add your carrots, (adding another tbsp of oil if you need it) until they are starting to soften, then add your onion. When your onion is just about soft, add the bok choy stems and cook for a minute or two. Then add the leaves, tossing everything around so that nothing burns, just for a minute to wilt the bok choy leaves. Make a little crater in the middle of the pan of veggies and add the ginger and garlic with a touch more oil, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn, until the garlic is fragrant and softened. Add your mushrooms back in, then add your rice on top of everything, and drizzle your sauce on top. Stir everything around until it’s nice and coated and combined and the rice is starting to turn a nice brown. Finally, crack your eggs in the center, and stir everything around until the egg is cooked and evenly coating the rice. Remove from the heat, garnish with some chopped scallion and enjoy!

Mar 6

11 - everybody loves a strudel

I have a soft spot in my heart for savory filled foods. Pot pies, empanadas, pasties, cannelloni, potstickers, calzones, the list goes on and on. Maybe it’s the gift-like quality of a savory treat wrapped in a flaky crust or chewy dough, or the surprise of finding out what delicious morsel is tucked away inside. Either way, I love a filled treat, and I love making them even more.

I had another ladies night dinner last week with friends Hillary and Lindsay, this time at Lindsay’s house, and I offered to bring dinner. I’ve been thinking about testing some veggie strudel recipes for some time, and this felt like the perfect opportunity. I made one for dinner for Craig and I the night before with great results, but with a few tweaks and considerations for transporting (prepping, chilling and assembling the whole thing at home and then baking it at Lindsay’s house), it was even better the second time.

This recipe can be adapted to just about any filling ingredients, and is a much lighter option than the typical strudel, since it uses phyllo dough with olive oil rather than a butter filled flaky dough to encase the filling. Although it’s so damned delicious that I could eat the entire thing, negating any health benefits incurred by eliminating the butter. This recipe is so easy and fun to make, I am considering making individual ones for another dinner soon. I have all kinds of delicious ideas for fillings, like little delicious tasty surprises inside a flaky phyllo gift wrap. You could even do little bite size canapes for a cocktail party, with a single phyllo sheet for each if you were so inclined. I don’t have those kinds of parties, but you might. 

Fennel, Squash, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Strudel
serves 4

  • 1/2 a head of fennel, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms, washed and quartered
  • 1 cup butternut squash, diced into 1/2” cubes
  • a few tbsp of olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 tsp thyme
  • 4 good knobs of goat cheese
  • 8-10 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed
  • olive oil spray (I use this guy, but you could also use Pam, or something similar)
  • flaky sea salt and fresh black pepper

Turn your oven to 400. Toss the squash in a tbsp of olive oil and some salt and pepper, then spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until lightly brown and soft (about 15 minutes, give or take). Remove your veg from the oven and turn it down to 350. 

Meanwhile, saute your fennel in olive oil in a large low pan over medium heat until it starts to soften, then add your onion. Crank the heat to medium-high high to get some good caramelization going, being careful not to burn. Remove from the heat when the fennel and the onion are nice and soft and brown in spots. Add them to the squash in a large bowl.

Add another glog of olive oil to your pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Add your mushrooms and saute until they caramelize and any liquid has evaporated, listening to them sizzle and squeak as they cook. (I love that sound. It might be one of my favorite kitchen sounds - mushrooms squeaking around in a hot pan.) Add your mushrooms and your thyme to the squash, fennel and onion and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lay one sheet of your phyllo dough out on a clean surface, preferably the ungreased baking sheet you’ll be baking the strudel on. Spray a little of your olive oil spray over the sheet and place another layer of phyllo on top. Repeat with all of your phyllo sheets, not worrying about lining them up perfectly (in fact, it’s easier in the long run if you don’t, because then you’ll have more overlapping pieces to stick together.)

Spread your filling longways along one side, leaving 2 -3 inches on either of the short ends, and about 1 inch on one long end. Like this:

Next add small slices or knobs of the goat cheese evenly down the center, lovingly nestling it into the filling, making sure it’s even so everybody gets some when you slice this baby. Carefully fold in the short ends over the filling, then fold the long sides in, overlapping them over the filling, rolling as you go. Very carefully turn the strudel over so the seam is on the bottom. Spray the top with a bit of your olive oil spray, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Bake at 350 for 10-20 minutes until brown and crisp. Let sit for 5 minutes, then slice into 4 equal servings (on the bias for a prettier presentation) and enjoy!

Special thanks to Craig, as always, for the illustrations.

Feb 9

07 - quinoa stuffed acorn squash

Another post for the vegetarians here, this time more seasonal - quinoa stuffed acorn squash. I love quinoa. It’s easy to make, it has a wonderful texture, and did you know it is a complete protein? I do so many things with it - I make a quinoa burger, I make cold quinoa salads, I make warm veggie filled pilafs. And now, I stuff it inside of acorn squash!

I usually do a meat heavy stuffing for acorn squash, because savory, rich meat is a great compliment to sweet and silky squash, but I am trying to cook a little lighter these days, and am trying to be creative with my vegetarian meal planning. So after buying a few adorable acorn squash at the market, I brainstormed and wrote out a basic recipe - roast squash, saute mushrooms and shallots, add quinoa and stock and cook, then add spinach and dried cranberries, stuff it into squash, top with crumbly cheese - and then I made it one night for my mom. After dinner I googled “stuffed acorn squash recipe” and found this. My recipe is just different enough, and obviously better, so I feel like it is still a valuable addition to the internet. I hope you agree, and I hope that you make this for your mother, too. She’ll love it.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash
serves 6

  • 6 smallish acorn squash, tops cut off and stringy seedy guts removed (OR 3 medium to large ones, sliced in half, also guts removed) (I also slice a little off the bottom to help them sit without rolling or wobbling)
  • 3 tbsp butter, divided
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh minced)
  • 2 cups veggie broth, chicken broth, or water
  • 1 bunch of fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup crumbled cheese, such as parmesan or romano 

Preheat your oven to 400. Prepare your squash and arrange in a large baking dish large enough to hold them all upright. (Here’s a pro tip - I use a serrated grapefruit spoon to seed my squash, making it super fast and easy.) Add 1/2 tbsp of butter to each squash, put the lids back on, cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes until soft but still with a little give when pierced with a knife. 

MEANWHILE, saute your shallots in a large skillet over medium heat until soft. Add the mushrooms and increase the heat to medium high. Cook until the mushrooms are browning and any liquid is evaporated, but be careful not to burn anything. Add a little more olive oil if needed. Add the quinoa, thyme, and broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the quinoa is soft but still has bite, about 15 minutes. If there is still liquid in the pan, uncover and increase heat until evaporated. Add the spinach and the cranberries, stir for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.

Stuff your squash with as much filling as they will hold without packing it in too tightly. Top with a little cheese and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese is starting to brown. Enjoy!

Feb 6

06 - vegetarian ladies night

On the heels of my last post, here’s a blatantly out of season recipe for spring rolls. I make these all year round for a fresh, light dish - in summer when it’s too hot to cook, and in winter when you want to eat something clean and crisp as you close your eyes and pretend like it’s warm out. You can really put anything you desire into these, but I always incorporate the classic rice vermicelli noodles, basil and mint as a base. 

I had a ladies night get together at my house last week with girlfriends Hillary, Lindsay and Sara. Since two of the three lean away from meat eating, I made lemongrass tofu bahn mi sandwiches and veggie spring rolls. The lemongrass tofu was my third attempt at the recipe, and though it was pretty tasty (made even more so with pickled diakon and carrot, Kewpie mayo, Sriracha, and a chicken liver and pork pate from the Momofuku cookbook), I still feel like the recipe needs some work. I’ll try again in a few weeks, invite one of you over for dinner and do another Vietnamese inspired post.

So, I have two super easy and delicious recipes for you this time - vegetarian spring rolls and sweet chili dipping sauce.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls
makes 12 spring rolls
(This recipe is for a basic traditional vegetarian spring roll, but you could totally add poached shrimp, cooked ground chicken, shredded pork, etc.)

  • 12 rice spring roll wrappers* (I like the Red Rose brand)
  • 1 small package rice vermicelli noodles*
  • 24 basil leaves
  • 24 mint leaves
  • 1 cucumber, but into 2 inch thin sticks (I use my mandoline, my all time favorite kitchen tool, other than my Le Creuset. Or my Cuisinart. Ok, so it’s my third favorite kitchen tool.)
  • 1-2 carrots, cut into 2 inch thin sticks (see above)
  • 1 avocado, halved and sliced
Prepare your fillings, cooking the rice noodles as per the package directions and then cooling them, slicing your veggies and separating your mint and basil leaves. Get yourself a pie plate and fill it with water. Get a serving plate and a moist kitchen towel or paper towel. Soak two spring roll wrappers at a time in the water until they are soft, 3-4 minutes, then lay them on your work surface and pat dry with a paper towel. (And toss two more spring roll wrappers into the water to soak while you assemble.)
Assemble the roll - Layer two basil leaves and two mint leaves in the center of the wrapper. Add your noodles, a few sticks of cucumber, carrot and a slice of avocado, careful to keep it all together in a sort of fat cigar shape, laid out horizontally in the middle of the wrapper. Now fold the left and right sides of the wrapper over onto the ends of the filling “cigar”. Then fold the edge closest to you over the filling, using your fingers to keep it tight, being careful not to tear the wrapper. Carefully roll the roll away from you to finish. The rice wrapper will stick to itself to secure it closed. Lay the rolls on the plate and cover with the moist towel. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat until you have as many spring rolls as you desire. 
* You can get rice wrappers and the vermicelli noodles at specialty asian food markets, and most large grocery stores.

Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce
makes a little less than a cup 

  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp chili garlic paste (Sambal Oelek)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
Combine vinegar, water and sugar over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add chili garlic paste and turn heat to low. Combine cold water and cornstarch until dissolved, then pour a little at a time into the hot sauce, whisking all the while, until it reaches your desired consistency. I like it just a little thicker than water, not as thick as cream. Let it cool and enjoy with your spring rolls! I usually make a double batch and keep in in the fridge for a week or two. It’s also great over rice with chicken and shrimp.

Jan 30

05 - you CAN make friends with salad

I love vegetables. But a mere 10 years ago, when we first moved to Chicago and before we joined Angelic Organics (a local, organic CSA program), I had never seen a fresh beet, had never heard of celeriac, and had no clue what to do with jerusalem artichokes. Now that I have almost a decade of seasonal produce preparations under my belt, I eagerly anticipate their individual arrivals in our weekly share box. But when the growing season ends and we have to start shopping for our produce at the grocery stores again, it is easy for my repertoire to become redundant and uninspired as I try to limit my egregiously out of season purchases (asparagus, strawberries and peaches don’t enter my home during the winter months, and we generally live without tomatoes from October through June, though I can’t live without avocado or lemons, so I admit I’m a huge hypocrite.) 

In the winter we eat a lot of beets, a lot of carrots and a lot of cabbage. I also buy a good amount of kohlrabi, radish, and apples. Storage and root vegetables galore, usually ending up in a slaw of some sort. We also almost always have arugula in the fridge - for when we crave something more “salad” like.

Salad. It isn’t a word that makes many people salivate. I think most people think of a wilted garden salad with dry slices of radish and carrot, crunchy pale tomatoes, and high fat dressings when they hear the word, which makes me shudder. Think chain family restaurant salad bar. But I try to make salads that we not only want to eat, but crave, especially in these winter months, which can sometimes be tough when we’re eating the same few root vegetables every week.

The key to my salads and slaws is my dressing. I typically make the same basic dressing for my slaws and salads all year round, adjusting a bit for seasonality, the availability of fresh herbs, and the cuisine I’m trying to pair it to. Maple in the fall and winter, fresh basil and lemon in the summer, sesame and ginger for an asian twist. It’s tangy and a little bit sweet, and pairs well with just about anything. Making your own dressing is so easy, so cheap, and so rewarding knowing you’re eating whole ingredients, no HFCS or unnecessary added sugar or preservatives. It takes mere seconds to whip up a batch of dressing and you can keep a jar in the fridge for a few weeks.

My good friend Erielle came over last weekend with her beautiful kids, 4 year old Alice and 18 month old Owen, for lunch and a playdate. I served pizza (I never promised I wouldn’t repeat during this project!) and a beet, arugula and aged goat cheese salad. With three kids running around I neglected to take a single photograph, so instead here’s a visual representation of my winter salad dressing recipe.

Emily’s Cold Weather Mustard Vinaigrette
makes about 1/2 cup

  • 1 oz (2 tbsp) red wine vinegar (you can also sub in some lemon juice)
  • 2 oz (1/4 cup) good quality olive oil 
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tsp agave nectar, or maple syrup, or honey, or sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or minced fresh thyme, or any other herb you have on hand)

Whisk together ingredients. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Enjoy!