Dark leafy green win: raw kale salad!

Back in February, my mom and I took our first cross-country vacation for a break from the frigid Northeast weather.  The trip landed us in the Tempe/Scottsdale/Phoenix area of AZ.  Much to my delight, the area sported not only a groovy little vegan restaurant called Green, but also a Whole Foods!  (As a side note, you know you’re vegan when you type “tempeh” every time you mean “Tempe”!)

Don’t get me wrong; our local co-op rocks.  But as any traveling vegan knows, it can be tough to find places to eat when you’re somewhere unfamiliar.  My mom is about 85% vegan and a selective omnivore the rest of the time, so she also is very conscientious about food choices.  Having a Whole Foods nearby eliminated that problem.  We were able to pop over there in our rental car, load up on fresh fruit and veggies and whole grain breakfast items, and return to the hotel set for the duration of the trip.

What all this is leading up to is that, while poking around Whole Foods, we discovered their selection of fresh prepared foods.  These included a sauteed kale dish with various veggies and a citrus dressing that was just plain amazing.  Both my mom and I loved it, and I wound up getting some to take on the plane ride home.

Later on, I discovered a recipe for Rainbow Kale Salad in The 30-Minute Vegan.  Though it’s not the same as the Whole Foods dish (the kale is raw, for one thing), it sounded so delicious that I’ve been dying to give it a try.

kale salad

It’s pretty, too, which never hurts.  Fresh kale, shredded carrots, red and yellow bell peppers, and red cabbage with an olive oil lemon dressing.  Mmm.  I didn’t have any yellow bell pepper, so I chopped up summer squash instead.

kale and rice 01

It made a perfect side to Caribbean Red Beans and Rice, yet another well-liked beans and rice recipe at my house.  (That one’s from Vegan Planet, in case you were wondering!)  I like the combination of savory, sweet, and spicy that it has.  Besides, it was a perfect excuse to finally pull out the kale salad recipe!

Seriously, if you haven’t yet tried raw kale, give it a shot.  It’s crunchy and has an amazing flavor, especially when put on a veggie sandwich or tossed in a salad with other, sweeter veggies.

Question for the comments: What are some of your best vegan vacation finds?

kale and rice 02

Madras curry–super spicy!

It’s no secret around my house that I love spicy food.  So when The 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East came out, I was understandably excited.  I haven’t had many chances to cook from it yet, but over the weekend I was feeling the need for something spicy and Indian so I decided to give it a workout.

curry pan

Madras curry was the perfect recipe.  Lots of garlic, ginger, and Indian spices with coconut milk and a mix of diced veggies.  It called for a whopping two teaspoons of cayenne pepper, four times as much as I’ve ever used in a recipe, so I decided to cut it in half to be on the safe side.

For the veggies, I cut up potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and bell peppers.  I also cooked up some brown rice in veggie broth with a little turmeric to compliment the color of the curry.  All in all, it fulfilled that little part of my brain that loves an aesthetic meal as well as a tasty one.  The only thing I would do differently next time would be to steam the potatoes and carrots a bit in advance; they were a little on the firm side.

curry bowl

The downside was that my mom thought it was way too hot, even with the reduction in cayenne pepper.  I, on the other hand, could have stood more.  I probably won’t be making this as a family meal too much in the future for that reason, but it was delicious in any case.  As a side note, Mom had leftovers of it after they had been in the fridge for a while, and said that it was fantastic cold.  Perhaps I’ll make it a day ahead to have around as a cold “lunch curry salad” or something similar!

Now I must be off to tend to the chickpea cutlets that are baking for dinner.  I’m going to try to invent an accompanying Dijon mustard sauce, and there’s garden-grown Swiss chard to go along with them.  Mmm, dinner.

Question for the comments: How spicy is too spicy, or is nothing spicy enough?

Adventures in raw food and Swiss chard

The past couple of days have been busy ones in the kitchen.  First, this came!

kitchenaid

Our old blender has been missing a part for a while now.  It’s practically antique, and my mom and I couldn’t find anything at the store that looked like a worthy replacement.  So we invested in a refurbished 5-speed KitchenAid, which I’m more excited about than is healthy.

I got to christen it with my first attempt at a raw dessert.  I ran across this berry cobbler on Twitter recently, and checked out the original, too.  I wound up making a combination of the two recipes, using a mixture of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

There was a lot of processing and blending involved:

crumble
berries

The end result reminded me a bit of a traditional berry cobbler.  And it’s super tasty.

berry crumble

I predict it will last about three days before my mom, brother, and I gobble our collective way through it.  I’ll definitely make more as more berries come in season.  It was relatively easy to make, and the flavor is so much more intense than other desserts.  I keep forgetting how fresh and wonderful raw food recipes taste!

Last night was another somewhat experimental dinner.  While browsing the library the other day, I ran across Moosewood Restaurant Cooking For Health.  I had been wanting to make something else with sweet potatoes, and lo and behold, there was a recipe for quinoa with sweet potatoes!  As an added bonus, the variation called for greens–spinach, to be exact.

We didn’t have any spinach hanging around, but on Thursday my mom and I harvested a bunch of fresh Swiss chard from my grandmother’s garden.  I decided to throw that in instead of spinach, and added a can of black beans to make it a full meal.

quinoa with sweet potatoes

Using red quinoa made it a colorful mix, and a little cilantro and lemon juice mixed in really well.  I’m a fan of cilantro with black beans, but wasn’t sure how the chard would take it.  Fortunately, it was a great combination.  I crushed up some raw almonds for garnish.

quinoa sweet potato plate

I’m such a sucker for photogenic food!

I’m also a sucker for the new Newsboys CD.  I’ve been playing the heck out of it, and it’s a lot of fun.  It’s been my background music while cooking since Thursday.  Tonight it’s time for hot food again–more specifically, curry from 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East!

Recipe: Brown Rice Cabbage Wraps

I’m on an ongoing quest to mix up what I eat for lunch.  Since going vegan, I’ve established a routine of what I like to eat on certain days, but it’s gotten a little old over the last year.  So on days when I know I want a salad, I’ve been trying to come up with new things to eat along with it.

Our local co-op sells a bunch of freshly-packed grain and bean salads in their deli section, and I started picking a few of those up here and there to have for lunch.  Then I thought, why not try making my own?  I took a little inspiration from my favorites and came up with a really simple rice salad that takes next to no time to put together.  Throw it in a cabbage leaf (or any green, leafy veggie) and viola!  Lunch!

Brown Rice Cabbage Wraps
serves 4

open cabbage wrap

Ingredients
1 cup uncooked brown rice
2 cups water

1/4 cup dried currants
2 tbsp. wanuts
1 tbsp. olive oil
liquid aminos
parsley

4 cabbage leaves (or your favorite leafy green)

Directions

1) Cook the rice in the water until all liquid is absorbed–about 45 minutes.  Do this ahead of time if you want cold rice salad.

2) Combine the cooked rice, currants, walnuts, and olive oil.  Add liquid aminos and parsley to taste.  Stir well.

rice salad bowl

3) For cold rice salad, store in the refrigerator until chilled.  Or serve immediately if you want a warm lunch!  Place about 1/4 of the rice mixture into each cabbage leaf, roll up, and enjoy.

cabbage wrap

Breakfast for dinner: spinach omelettes!

Even before I went vegan, I didn’t eat eggs all that much.  They were more often a component of baked goods than something to cook up and eat on their own, and I was never a fan of omelettes.  Now that I am vegan, I find it kind of odd that the modern world thinks chicken ovulations are still useful and tasty, but I digress.

A while back, I picked up a copy of Quick & Easy Vegan Comfort Food.  It doesn’t get as much mileage as my other cookbooks because most of the recipes are what I think of as “transition foods”–stuff you’d cook to share with non-vegan friends and family, or go-to recipes for new vegans still craving old favorites.  But it does have some good recipes, including a faux tuna salad I make on occasion and, you guessed it, spinach omelettes!

omlette batter

Doesn’t look much like an omelette, does it?  The batter is a bit of a strange mixture of silken tofu and various spices, which then gets cooked up in an omelette shape and filled with baby spinach, peppers, and onions.

omlette pan

I found it kind of hard to keep them from becoming a huge mess instead of resembling omelettes, but that could have just been me since I never had a talent for keeping things neat even with regular eggs.  Either way, they turned out nicely!

omlette plate

I made some spelt breakfast biscuits from the same book to go along with them, and it was great.  There’s something about having breakfast for dinner that’s fun and comforting.  And I do get a kick out of veganising “regular” foods once and a while.

omlette salsa

Both the omelettes and the biscuits were surprisingly good with salsa, which is the only thing I don’t think I’d add if I was eating this for breakfast.  Then again, I do love salsa.  This was a black bean and corn variety that I grabbed at the store by accident a while back, but it turned out to be a pretty delicious mistake.  It’s been good on these, quesadillas, and pretty much everything else I normally put salsa on.

Question for the comments: What’s your favorite breakfast food to have for dinner?

Sushi night!

I’ve been wanting to do a vegan “sushi” night for a while, and last night I got the chance to try it out!  Having already experimented with nori rolls, I wanted to try adding tempura to make it a full meal.

tempura prep

I went with the Batter Baked Tempura recipe from The 30-Minute Vegan, since it sounded amazing.  It’s really hard to find vegan bread crumbs around here, except at a bakery that’s 45 minutes away, so I whipped up their pretzel crumb recipes, too.  Turns out it’s an awesome way to use up the broken bits that are always hanging around the bottom of pretzel bags!

The batter part of the recipe called for flax meal, water, and baking powder, which is something I never considered.  It worked quite well, and made for a light, crunchy tempura when all was said and done.  I used mushrooms, broccoli, onions, and summer squash–all of which came out tender inside the breading!

nori prep

This is my nori roll preparation area.  (Yes, I’m desperately in need of more counter space.)  Having done this bit before, it didn’t take very long.  The rolls were just about done by the time the tempura finished baking.  All in all, I think it was about a half-hour process for everything, since I pre-cooked the rice around lunchtime.  The nori rolls got filled with fresh ginger, carrots, red and green bell peppers, slices of green cabbage, and a little bit more summer squash.

sushi nite 01

I love the way it all looks together, and I couldn’t resist taking this picture, too:

nori roll dip

Basic dipping sauce made with rice vinegar, a little Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, water, and some red pepper flakes.  verdict?  Yum!  And definitely something I would do again.  It made a great light meal, and only having to run the oven for a little while was nice in the hot weather.

As a side note, I think I’m in love with rice vinegar.  I found some at a slightly larger grocery store this past week, and this was my first time using it in anything.  Totally delicious.

sushi nite 02

Gushing about LUSH

I love LUSH Cosmetics.  I first heard of them a while back but didn’t get a chance to try their products until recently, when I ran across a LUSH store while on a trip to AZ.  I’m not much of a “mall person” anymore, but my mom and I do tend to check out the local shops while we’re on vacation somewhere.  And let me tell you, Scottsdale, AZ is an awesome place to shop even if you’re not usually much of a shopper.  In addition to a huge mall (where the LUSH store was), there are a bunch of neat local shops to browse.

I popped into LUSH’s store just to check out what they were all about, since all I’d seen of them was their website.  Wow, just…wow.  Talk about amazing!  There were soaps, shampoos, bath bombs, creams, lotions, and gift sets *everywhere*.  The thing that really blew my mind was that all of the soaps and some of the solid shampoos were available by the pound, like a soap deli.  We don’t really have stuff like that around here, so it was a completely new experience for me.

I wound up buying small hunks of two different soaps.  The girl behind the counter was a sweetheart, and wouldn’t let me leave without a solid shampoo sample.  I seriously could have spent my life’s savings in that store–no exaggeration.  I’m a sucker for fun bath and shower products, and LUSH goes the extra mile.  I love that they don’t do any animal testing and don’t accept ingredients from anyone who does.  Their “naked” product concept is awesome, too–tons of their products are sold solid, without packaging.  And the packaging they do use is made of as much post-consumer recycled product as possbile!  All of their products are vegetarian, and they are super, super vegan-friendly.

Sorry for sounding like a LUSH ad.  But they really are that amazing.  I didn’t realize *how* amazing until the other day when I went back to a mainstream conditioner I used to love.  It’s been tucked in the cabinet for a while (and probably isn’t vegan *wince), and I was feeling obligated to use it up.  After using LUSH shampoos and conditioners for weeks, I was really surprised by the difference.  LUSH stuff feels fresh and clean, whereas this, which I’ve used in the past with no problem, felt like I had dunked my head in liquid plastic.  The smell seemed excessively chemical, too.  That alone would have been enough to sell me on fresh, natural body care if I hadn’t been already!

It makes sense, too.  The fresher and closer to the earth you get with the stuff you put in your body, the better you feel; why should it be any different with what you put *on* your body?  LUSH goes for organic, fresh, and handmade…what’s not to like?

My top three LUSH recommendations for a reallyreallyreally (it bears saying thrice) clean shower:
Karma soap — you and your bathroom will smell amazing
Ultimate Shine solid shampoo — unlike commercial shampoos, it actually does what it says and leaves your hair shiny
Veganese conditioner — light scent, light conditioner, awesome results

Don’t be put off by the prices; the products really are worth it.  The soaps and shampoos last ages (I’m still using up what I got in AZ five months ago), and the quality is second to none.  Really.

Question for the comments: What’s your favorite vegan shower product?

Recipe: Lemon Greens & White Beans Salad

On Friday, I tried my hand at risotto for the first time.  We had some asparagus that needed using, so I hit the cookbooks.  1,000 Vegan Recipes turned up a lovely-sounding risotto made with pearl barley, asparagus, and white mushrooms.  The only thing I knew about risotto is that it involves a lot of stirring.  If you’ve been wondering, yes, it’s worth it!

asparagus barley risotto

Never having made risotto before, I was faced with the problem of what to make to go with it.  I knew I wanted some kind of protein source, but didn’t want to go through the hassle of making a second dish, especially since so much of my attention had to be focused on stirring the risotto as it cooked.  Enter the greens and beans salad!

I love beans in salad.  It’s amazing how dumping a can of beans into a traditional side salad turns it into a dish in and of itself.  This is a simple recipe, and the amount and strength of the dressing is entirely up to personal preference.  It makes a great side to throw together and take along to a gathering, or even a main dish for lunch on hot days.  And it’s awesomely colorful!

Lemon Greens & White Beans Salad
serves 4-6 as a side

Ingredients

For the salad:
5 1/2 cups mixed greens
1/2 cup red cabbage, shredded
1 cup zucchini, sliced into half-moons
1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 15.5oz can canellini beans, drained and rinsed

For the dressing:
lemon juice
apple cider vinegar
dried thyme

Directions

Combine all salad ingredients in a large salad bowl.  Toss to combine and chill until ready to serve.

At the time of serving, sprinkle with thyme and drizzle cider vinegar and lemon juice to taste.

risotto and salad

Recipe: Zucchini Quesadillas with Cheezy Sauce

Zucchini was on sale this week, which means (you guessed it) I bought some and just HAD to cook with it!  Way back in the dusty corridors of my personal veg history, I used to get Taste of Home magazine.  One summer issue featured quesadillas, among them a very tasty recipe for zucchini quesadillas.  Downside?  Cheese, and lots of it.

What I made last night was sort of a zucchini quesadilla redux.  I took what I remembered best about the recipe, swapped vegan nacho cheese sauce for the dairy cheese, and voila!  Zucchini quesadillas with cheezy sauce were born!

I used the cheese sauce recipe from The 30-Minute Vegan‘s “We Will Rock You 3-Layered Nachos” recipe, but you can use any cheese sauce you prefer.  The recipe made enough for six people, so I’ve listed the reduced recipe below since this only makes two servings.

It was hot as you-know-where yesterday, so I chose to brown the quesadillas on the stovetop.  However, I also love baking them in the oven to get an extra-crispy tortilla, so I’ve included instructions for both methods.

Zucchini Quesadillas with Cheezy Sauce
serves 2

Ingredients
2 burrito-size flour tortillas
1/2tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
3/4 cup colored bell pepper, chopped (I used red)
2 cups zucchini, shredded
tomatoes, avacado, shredded lettuce, etc. for garnish

hot sauce
black pepper
chili powder
cumin
oregano

1/3 recipe 30-Minute Vegan nacho cheese sauce (see below)

quesadilla prep

To make the quesadillas:
1) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2) Add the onions and pepper.  Cover and cook until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3) Add the zucchini, hot sauce, and spices to taste.  Be careful with the hot sauce–too much may make the mixture wet or runny.  Cook until the zucchini has absorbed the spices and is reduced in size, 3-4 minutes.

quesadilla filling

4) Remove zucchini mixture from the heat.  Spread 1/2 of the mixture on the bottom half of each flour tortilla and fold over.

open-face quesadilla

5) While the quesadillas are browning (with either method below), prepare the cheese sauce.

To bake:
Place quesadillas on a cookie sheet or pizza pan and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, turning once, until the tortillas are lightly browned and crispy.

To brown in the skillet:
Gently wipe out the pan used to cook the zucchini mixture and place the quesadillas in it.  Return to the burner and brown over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, until the tortillas are crispy, turning as needed.

6) Whisk together the cheese sauce ingredients (below) in a saucepan over medium heat.  Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens.  Remove from heat and set aside.

To make the cheese sauce:
2tbsp. + 2tsp. nutritional yeast
2tsp. flour (I used spelt)
1/3tsp. chili powder
1/3tsp. onion powder
1/3tsp. soy sauce (or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos)
1/3 cup non-dairy milk

7) Once the quesadillas are browned and crispy, transfer to a plate.  Garnish with chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, avacado…whatever you prefer.  Pour 1/2 of the cheese sauce over each quesadilla and serve hot with your favorite salsa.

zucchini quesadilla with sauce

In other news, I’ve been reading Fast Food Nation (finally), and boy is it scary.  It astonishes me that a book like that has been around for nine years, hit the New York Times Bestseller list, and yet people still consume vast amounts of fast and processed foods.  I can understand the difficulty of breaking a lifelong, industry-backed mindset towards meat and dairy consumption, but in a world where heart disease, hypertension, and obesity run rampant, it baffles me that more people don’t understand that eating food that’s not food is bad for them.

Question for the comments:
What mainstream attitudes about food confuse or baffle you the most?

A Quantum Vegan July 4th!

So what do vegans eat on 4th of July?  I’m not sure about other vegans (though I read quite a few tasty-sounding tweets yesterday!), but in the Quantum Vegan household, there was quite a bit of corn on the cob to be had.  Before that, though, I tried to beat the forecast heat of the day and make cookies before the temperature began flirty with 90°F.

oatmeal raisin cookies

Oatmeal raisin cookies, one of the simpler recipes from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.  My mom bought an oatmeal raisin cookie at a coffee shop on Saturday, and the smell made me crave a batch of the vegan sort.  I baked them for a shorter time to assure a chewy finished cookie, and they came out amazing.

Speaking of amazing, this is what the Quantum Vegan had for 4th of July dinner:

4th of July dinner

Sweet, tasty corn on the cob, french fries made of real potatoes (gasp!), and vegan sausages from the Vegan Dad blog.  The flecks in the sausage are bits of black beans; the recipe calls for pinto and we didn’t have any.  In my opinion, the sausages taste even better this way.  All together, it was an awesome dinner.  Well worth the time it took to put together the sausages earlier in the week!

What did you all do for the 4th?

4th of July dinner 02

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