Thursday, March 26, 2015

Soup Weather, even in the sun

We've been having more or less relentless sunshine out here -- with a few special rainy moments! -- so it hasn't really felt like soup weather. But, I love soup... and so a while back I finally just decided to give up on waiting for soup weather and forge ahead with the soup-making! 

I love how a good soup can be a complete meal - veggies and beans and protein and flavor and texture all in one bowl of yum. I already have a giant stock pile of tried and true soup recipes, and yet I can't help myself from constantly wanting to try new recipes. Here are a few of the hits I've made recently:

Cha Cha Chili from "Soup's On"

I really love the 30-Minute Vegan series of cookbooks with recipes from Mark Reinfeld. I have all four of them and I've made great meals from each of his books. The latest book in the series is called "Soup's On," and it's all soup recipes. Yeah! I think my favorite chili in the world is probably the Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potato Chili from Appetite for Reduction, but I still always enjoy trying out new chili recipes. This Cha-Cha Chili was really great and is definitely a soup I would make again. I loved the tempeh bits in the chili and the spices & seasoning were strong but not overpowering the veggies. 

Coq au Vin from "Soup's On"

Wow, this was really special! I loved the warm, rich flavors in this chunky, substantial soup. The cubed tofus are baked for extra chewiness, and are then combined with chopped veggies and a hearty red-wine soup base to make a properly filling and warming meal. For whatever reason, I don't often make meals with this rich, "meaty" flavor profile - and so this soup felt like something outside the ordinary for us. We both really loved it. One thing that I really appreciate about the recipes in this book (and the other 30-Minute Vegan books as well) is that although the recipes are fairly quick to make, they aren't simplistic. They always feature complex and truly satisfying flavors that don't taste like they came together in a hurry. 

Roasted Sunchoke & Cauliflower Soup

Do you want your head to explode with glorious soupy perfection overload? If so, I highly recommend this recipe. I had never heard of the In Pursuit of More blog, but judging from all my fellow vegans commenting in the comments section, I might just have been out of the loop. I had some sunchokes sitting around, so I was just searching the webs when I came upon this recipe and knew it was the one for me. Even before being turned into soup, roasted sunchokes and roasted cauliflower are two of the most delicious veggie experiences in existence. 

Gentle readers, this soup is SO GOOD. I am impatiently awaiting an opportunity to make it again (as soon as I can find some more sunchokes at the market!). I didn't puree it all the way, because we both prefer our soups a little more on the chunky side. As suggested, we garnished our soup with chopped hazelnuts, fresh herbs, and some vegan parmesan. Plus a side of peas, because we've been on a pea scene lately. 

this is how you will feel after eating this soup

Yellow Sweet Potato & Chickpea Pie with Basil (except, with white beans)

Okay, this is not actually soup, but I'm including it anyway. Sorry, Charlie! I have all of Dreena's books, but somehow I haven't been using them much lately... so I flipped around through Let Them Eat Vegan, and decided to make this delicious quiche. To keep things more on the low-cal side of life, I used the quinoa crust recipe from Vegan Pies & Tarts with Heart (by Dynise Balcavage), and then used Dreena's filling. Sadly, Mr VE&T isn't really a chickpea fan, so I used white beans instead. This pie was savory and delicious and full of both flavor and nutrition. I'm looking forward to finding some more Dreena recipes to try out. Any suggestions? 

Minestrone Soup, baked Honeynut Squash, with a blood orange

Did you know that I make the best Minestrone Soup in the whole world? Okay, well, that's quite a claim... but I really do make a mean pot of minestrone. Here's my recipe. I like to pack it so full of veggies and flavor bombs that it's more like stew than soup. Usually I throw in a cube of my homemade tomato conserva (super-rich tomato paste), and a cube of my frozen homemade pesto. I also like to make a ginormous quantity of minestrone so that we can each have two big bowls for dinner two nights in a row. Because we are hungry minestrone piggies like that.

ha ha. such humility

Any special soupy suggestions? What are your favorite recipes? 

Monday, March 23, 2015

NoRooz Persian New Year Feast & Festivities

This past Friday was one of my favorite days of the whole year : NoRooz! I'm sure all you loyal readers remember some of my previous Persian New Year posts from years past. Although I am not in any way Persian, I first learned about this holiday years ago while I was dating an Iranian man for a few years. He and I eventually split up and we have long since lost touch, but my love for NoRooz has lived on with unwavering affection. I often think of that former boyfriend at this time of year and send him a NoRooz blessing through the ether. 

This year's feast was the result of pretty much two days straight of cooking and prepping and fussing in the kitchen. In other words, a totally awesome time! Usually when I host parties, my excellent friends offer to bring something or make something, but I really love to do all the cooking for NoRooz. I think of it as a New Year's gift for my loved ones!

Cheese plate

I thought of making my own aged cashew cheeses - but these days the store-bought selections are so good that I took the opportunity to save myself some time and to try two new vegan cheeses that I hadn't tried yet. I bought the Heidi Ho Pure Chevre and Treeline Cheese Herb & Garlic flavor. Both of these were great and were a total and complete hit with everyone at the party! Woo hoo! Finally there are vegan cheeses that I can proudly serve to a room full of non-vegans and hold my head up high. What a great thing.

Along with the cheeses were some fresh baguette slices, flat bread wedges, cherry tomatoes and those excellent little organic Persian cucumbers from Trader Joes. I almost never buy my produce at TJ's (all that packaging!!), but these Persian cukes are so special and so tasty, so it was a fun splurge.

Spinach & Yogurt Dip with Walnuts

There are a few dishes that one simply must make for NoRooz, but every year I also like to try at least one or two recipes that I've never tried before. This year, I was snooping around the web looking for some NoRooz inspiration when I came across this recipe. Using my own homemade soy yogurt, this was a total cinch to veganize, and the result was fantastic. I put this out alongside the cheese platter so that it could also go with the bread slices. I loved the flavor of this spread so much -- and actually, even the spinach-onion-walnut combo on its own was totally delicious. I think I might experiment with using that combo as a dumpling filling (without the yogurt), because it was so tasty. 


Ajil is sorta like Persian Trail Mix... and actually it's usually eaten on the Tuesday night/Wednesday eve before NoRooz... but it's also very tasty and delicious, so I broke the rules and served it. Plus, I had a few kids at the party and wasn't sure how adventurous their palates would be -- but I figured that everyone can get into a good bowl of nuts and dried fruits. There are already a million good Ajil recipes online, but my mixture involved raisins, almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried chickpeas, pistachios, raisins, dried cherries, and dried mulberries. So, you see, it's pretty good! 

 Aash-e Reshteh

This soup is pretty much the main Must Have at any NoRooz celebration. It is so good!!! It's got 3 kinds of beans, lentils, beets, boat loads of fresh herbs, beets, spinach, and noodles. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to make... but mostly that's inactive... You can find my recipe here. This year we had a bigger group than usual, so I made a full batch and there was just the tiniest little bit left over. Maybe I should have made more! Everyone agreed that this was one of my best batches of this soup that I've ever made. Isn't it funny how you can make the same recipe from year to year, but sometimes one batch just doesn't "have it" and another time it can taste like the most amazing thing ever? Well, this year I got lucky!

Mini Muffin Kuku Sabzi

Kuku Sabzi is usually an omlette with loads and loads of minced herbs, walnuts, and barberries. Over the years I have tried so many different methods of veganizing this recipe... but last year I really hit the nail on the head. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten about this adaption that I tried for the first time last year... but then when I was writing up my menu and shopping list, I decided to look over some of my previous NoRooz posts for recipes and such. I learned so much from myself! Ha ha. 

These are based on the recipe for Mini Muffin Omlettes from Isa Does It, and then just shifted the seasoning to be more like Kuku Sabzi. You can read more about my recipe and method on last year's post ... which is very helpful indeed, if I do say so myself. My own post also reminded me to use my food processor to chop the herbs -- which was a huge time and space saver. Thanks, self! 

 Sabzi Polow with Amey's Most Perfect Tahdig EVER

I love love love this rice. You may have noticed at this point that many of these NoRooz Dishes feature loads of fresh herbs ~ it's one of my favorite things about this holiday. Celebrating the arrival of a new year at the Spring Equinox makes so much sense... it's just so in harmony with the cycle of nature, when every plant is busting forth with blossoms and new, tender growth. So, all the fresh herbs are also a symbol of spring greens, and are included in so many dishes. In preparation for this party, I purchased 3 bunches of parsley, 3 bunches of cilantro, two bunches of dill, two bunches of mint, 2 bunches of scallions, and 2 pounds of fresh spinach. Booya!

The Persian rice is legendary for this crispy golden crust called "tahdig," and also for the tender non-clumpy rice inside. It's basically a giant cake of rice. I used the recipe and techniques for Persian Rice from Vegan Eats World, but I subbed out her seasoning suggestions and added in fresh herbs. This year, I doubled the recipe and added in 1 cup each of minced parsley, cilantro, dill, and chives. I love that Terry's recipe includes yogurt ~ I think it adds a nice creaminess to the final result. This year I used plain coconut yogurt, because one of my guests is allergic to soy and I already had a couple other dishes featuring soy (the yogurt dip and the mini omlettes). I wasn't sure if the sweetness in the coconut yogurt would be a factor, but it totally wasn't.

As you can see, year by year I am slowing getting the hang of this thing. Can you even believe how beautiful and golden and lovely that crusty rice is? And the inside was just as light and fluffy as you could ever want it to be. Contented sigh. There was none left over, so I took that to be a very good sign.

 Shirazi Salad

Just look at those colors! This lovely salad featured those same darling little Persian cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, olives, red onion, and mint. For something different, I used a nice salad dressing recipe from Silk Road: A Vegetarian Journey - I just tweaked it a little by adding extra lime juice and extra pomegranate paste. So good!

Flipping through Silk Road reminded me of what an AMAZING cookbook that is and got me all fired up to make more recipes from it.

Irani Mint Lemonade and Dried Lime Tea

I've made both of these special drink recipes for previous NoRooz fetes, and they were both as great as ever. The Mint Lemonade recipe is from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian and involves making a hot simple syrup and then pouring it over a load of minced, fresh mint and allowing it to steep. Then, combining that with fresh lemon juice and water. I used sparkly water for extra panache. 

The Omani Lime Tea is totally particular, and not like anything else you've ever tasted... but it's also very good! Dried limes are funky little things -- they're salted and dried and you have to bust them open with a hammer! A "culinary hammer," as I like to call it. You can find the recipe we used here. 

 I say "we" because up until now, I've neglected to mention that my excellent friend came over and spent the whole afternoon in the kitchen helping me cook and prepare. Her help was so invaluable! With a pal in the kitchen, every thing is more fun and goes more smoothly, there's less stress, and I can have a more ambitious menu since I know I'll have help. Plus, what a fun way to spend time together!

In addition to these drinks, I also had some Trader Joe's Pomegranate Sparkly juice and some plain sparkly water... just in case anyone was feeling less adventurous. I have to say, both Silk Road and World Vegetarian have some very intriguing Persian drink ideas that I haven't yet tackled, but one year I'll really go all out and make a selection of unexpected drinks. Won't that be fun!?

 the Haft Sin display

One of the things that really made me fall in love with this holiday is the Haft Seen display. You can read all about it on Wikipedia here. The table features at least seven (haft) items that begin with the letter "s" (sin) in Farsi. Each item has a special symbolism for the new year ~ an apple for health, garlic for medicine, dried sumac for the color of the sunrise, vinegar for old age... and so on. I always set the display up on my mantle. Every year I enjoy the ritual of assembling all the special items and arranging them with care and thought.

 a close up

from left to right: candles, daffodils, Hafiz and Rumi, glass eggs, an apple, dried oleander fruit, a (plastic) goldfish in water, sprouted wheat, (vinegar hiding behind the sprouts), rosewater, garlic, samanu (pudding made from sprouted wheat berries), dried sumac, more Rumi (never enough Rumi!), and then off-screen: a hyacinth, more candles, and some tulips.

Every year, as a part of the party, I stand by the mantle and we go over each of the items and what they symbolize and we try to remember their names in Farsi. One of my sweet friends who comes every year is indeed Persian, and - poor thing - we always look to her as our expert on all things authenticly Persian. However, fortunately for her, these days the internet is always available to help us out!

 Sohan As-Ali

There are many tempting goodies to choose from when planning your NoRooz dessert options, but in my opinion, you should never skip over Sohan As-Ali. These were the first Persian treat that I ever learned to make and they are just amazing -- almond brittle flavored with saffron and rosewater and then topped with finely chopped pistachios. Ahhh. So many subtle and evocative flavors in one perfect little morsel. This year's batch was a bit stubborn and took for-ever to reach the right temperature... but thanks to my candy thermometer, plenty of patience, and with some familiarity with how the goop should look -- they ended up coming out just perfect. Huzzah! Here's my recipe.

  Key Lime Pie

Every year I also make a Key Lime Pie, because the day after NoRooz is my Dad's birthday, and Key Lime Pie is my dad's #1 favorite treat. I used the wonderful and flawless recipe from the PPK (also found in Vegan Pie In The Sky). This year I used the Specculos cookies from Trader Joes (instead of graham crackers) to make the crust and the crust was faboo!! Definitely a good pairing. This whole pie was completely polished off... which is always a good sign.

This year's birthday celebration for my dad was especially sweet because he was just in the hospital last week and we weren't sure if he would be well enough in time to celebrate NoRooz with us. Well, quite happily, he healed so quickly that he was even released from the hospital sooner than anticipated and has been resting and recovering quite well. I sure do love my dad and every key lime pie I get to make for him gets sweeter and sweeter every year.

Somer's Pistachio Almond Ice Cream

I took note of this recipe quite a while back and stashed it away in my brain for NoRooz. What a hit! Believe it or not, this ice cream gets its glorious green color from fresh spinach!! Flavorwise, the spinach completely disappears, but the color is fantastic. Somer's recipe called for almond butter, but for extra pistachio oomph, I made some pistachio butter in my Vitamix first and used that instead. (I also used almond milk in place of soymilk). I think this was my favorite homemade ice cream ever! Next time I make it, I'll cut back the agave nectar just a bit, and also add some rosewater and saffron to truly Persian-ify the recipe. I also doubled the amount of pistachios called for, because more nuts is always better. More nuts = better life. There's still a little bit of this left in the freezer, but I don't think it will be there for much longer! 


Every year, right before NoRooz, a number of Persian bloggers team up and they each post a recipe for NoRooz. That's where I found this lovely recipe for NoRooz Cookies on ZoZoBaking. The recipe was easy enough to veganize: I used 2 tsp EnerG Egg Replacer + 1 Tbsp water for the egg yolk, soy-free Earth Balance for the vegetable fat, and almond milk for the milk. I loved that the recipe was so specific with grams for each ingredient. My dough came out perfectly soft and delicious (of course I quality-tested the dough, just in case!). The author of the recipe mentioned that she used a meat grinder to press out her cookies. But since that is most definitely not a kitchen tool I keep around, I used my cookie press instead and my cookies came out looking just like hers! I was delighted. These are essentially a very light and delicately sweetened sugar cookie with a perfect hit of cardamom and topped with pistachio dust. So elegant and so delicious. There were two left but Mr. VE&T ate them today. Alas. The cookies are gone, but my memories will grow on.

we all celebrate in our own way

I've got my sprouts still growing on the mantle, and 13 days after the equinox, I'll take them down to the ocean to toss them into the sea and make room for a new year. I know that many of you are suffering through so much snowy weather that spring feels like an impossible reality... but hopefully it will be on its way to your part of the world soon. Here's to a new year of growth and discovery and compassion and laughter! 

Eide Shomah Mobarak!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cookin' From "Isa Does It"

For some reason, even though "Isa Does It" came out a while back, I hadn't really delved into it -- until recently. In the last month or so, I've made so many recipes from IDI, and we've been eating well! I've been having lots of fun flipping through the pages (and photos!) and choosing recipes to make.

getting dinner ideas

Blogging in the winter time is a little sad, because we always sit down to eat well after dark, and it's not that fun to take yucky indoor food photos after dark. I've been making lots of delicious dinners and thinking "no one wants to see my yellowy photos from 9pm."

So, I made a bunch of recipes from Isa Does It and didn't even bother to photograph them. Like a totally rotten, no-good blogger. I made (and enjoyed!) the Lentil Quinoa Stew, the Orange Chicky Seitan, and a few others that all went undocumented. 

But then I thought, "this is ridiculous!"-- and I just decided to go forth into the stark reality of winter-time blogging and share with you my substandard pictures of some delicious meals. So there.

Sweet Potato and Red Curry Soup with Kale
For some reason, no one sells sweet potatoes at our farmers market, so I used a butternut squash instead. I loved the flavors and textures in this soup - and I always love a good one-pot meal like this. Hearty and warm and satisfying, but not too heavy. I used some store-bought red curry powder and added an extra tablespoon of the stuff, because it wasn't too intense. 

Roasted Yellow Beet Salad with Maple Mustard Dressing, with Tempeh Crouton Option

These little tempehs were the star of the show! So easy and yummy. Mr. VE&T was trying to eat them all out of the pan: hands off, dude!! I loved this salad, and I love golden beets and (secretly) I was also sneaking some of the tempeh croutons out of the pan before they made it to the salad bowls. Those buggers are good. Also, this dressing was essentially effortless to make and went great with the salad.

Ranch Salad with Potatoes and Smoky Chickpeas

Honestly, neither of us were big fans of the avocado ranch dressing for this salad -- but we both agreed that the toasty chickpeas were magical, and that the essential elements of the salad itself were totally great. So, I'm pretty sure I'll make this again and just use a different ranch dressing recipe. Plus, I really like cooked potatoes in salad. Somehow, they make a salad feel so much more substantial and like a valid dinner.

Citrus Tahini Bowl with Bok Choy and Grilled Tofu

The Citrus Bowl is one of my favorite Isa Does It recipes - it's quick and delicious. And, like any good "bowl," it has all your needs in one food experience: protein, veggies, sauce, grains, cooked and fresh components... So perfect! As you can see, I usually use my panino press for tofu and it works like a charm. I've seen all the "make tofu in your waffle iron" pics going around on the internet lately, but I'm sticking with my panino press. It's super easy to clean, which is definitely a major plus. Also, I won't have to worry about savory garlic bits tainting my next precious waffle experience. God Forbid.

Smoky Incan Stew

This was a great and easy dinner to throw together. A good stew - kinda like a good "bowl" - has everything in it: grains, veggies, greens, beans... The flavors in this were warming but not too intense in any one direction. I also got to use up some of my frozen corn and tomatoes from the summer... so this recipe helped me with my freezer-clearing project! 

Puffy Pillow Pancakes
(with added bananas and walnuts)

Here's a day time picture for you! On Valentine's Day, we made a special breakfast of Banana-Walnut Pancakes, Tofuevos, fresh OJ from our tree, hot coffee... and his and hers maple syrup. I'm all about the "real deal," and Mr. VE&T prefers the Log Cabin syrup. To each their own! Given our freakish summer-all-year weather, we even ate our breakfast outside in the sun. Of course, the pancakes were perfect. If you've never tried this recipe, you really should give it a go. It's my number one favorite pancake recipe. This time we added bananas and walnuts for an extra special treat. As you can see, there were more than we could eat that morning, so I had leftover pancakes for breakfast the next day too. Mmm.

There are so many more recipes from Isa Does It that I still want to try. I have a long list with "recipes to try" and I'll slowly make my way through it. I'm sure you'll be seeing another IDI post sometime soon! And, if you have any favorites from this book - please share your tips! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Overwhelmed With Oranges!

A couple of years ago I planted two orange trees and a lime tree. That lime tree went bonanza right away, but the orange trees have been a bit more slow to produce. At least, until this year. I planted two different varieties of oranges, and one of them is still kinda limping along... but - as you can see - tree #2 is going to town! We have SO MANY ORANGES.

just one of many giant batches of OJ

But, here's the dilemma: they really aren't the best oranges. Alas! Every week, when I go to the farmers market, I allow myself to buy one beautiful, perfect and delicious orange for a snack. It seems so ridiculous to buy oranges when I have so many oranges on my tree that I am literally harvesting off the ground... and yet, there you have it.

Our oranges are pretty good - but not very sweet... Pretty much the only way to get through them en masse is by juicing them.

I only have one of those little tiny glass juicer thingees, where you have to turn your wrist back and forth a million times to get out 3 tablespoons of juice. When you have giant cardboard boxes filled with oranges urgently awaiting your timely attention, this can seem a bit overwhelming. But, due to my absolute dedication to never letting food go to waste, I have tackled this project already a few times this season ... and I"m sure I have many more juice-a-thons in my future.

The actual juice is pretty good, but again, not too sweet. I figured out that if I think about grapefruit juice, then it's really good. It's just not as sweet as you'd except OJ to be, but it's a totally passable grapefruit juice. 

Besides just drinking the juice, I've been trying to use it up in other ways. I took some to a breakfast gathering, I gave some to my mom and dad (who admitted to adding sweetener, fair enough!), and I've been trying to find as many recipes as I can that call for orange juice. 

This is the Citrus Tahini Bowl from Isa Does It

In addition to the bowl above, I've made the Orange Chicky Seitan (also from Isa Does It), and lots of various salads with the Orange-Miso Dressing from "Oh She Glows Cookbook." That dressing is really quick and easy and uses up a little big of dressing. The Orange Chicky Seitan came and went without getting photographed - but it was a big hit. Very delicious, not too time-consuming to make, and used up a whole cup of OJ. I think I'll have to make it again soon!

I welcome your orange juice ideas!