Hooray – a plant-based cheese success story!!! Believe me, the three exclamation points are not for nothing as I’ve had my fair share of plant-based cheese disasters. But, let us not dwell on failure and talk about this latest, greatest treasure I discovered. Like my vegan fresh mozzarella experiment that was out of this world delicious, this Baked Sunflower Cheese is fully based on a lovely recipe created by another person. Credit for today’s recipe goes to Sweet Potato Soul, a lovely and so bright and cheerful vegan food blog by Jenné (you can also follow her on Twitter @SweetPotatoSoul).
I was looking for something to do with sunflower seeds and this recipe popped up. The recipe is simple and follows the same logic of plant-based cheese making – you soak in this case the seeds but more often the nuts overnight, and then you process them with flavor and umami agents of your choice. Jenné’s recipe uses a nice combination of ingredients that all play well together with the raw sunflower seeds, so other than adjusting the amount of lemon juice and miso paste, I increased both, and dialing down the nutritional yeast, I followed all the rest.
My main point of departure was at the end. Once I’ve chopped and blended everything in the food processor I used my muffin tin to form small individual cheeses. I sprayed the muffin tins with some olive oil cooking spray, and packed the cheese mix into the molds tightly. I let it firm up in the fridge overnight and the next day I inverted the individual cheeses out, topped them with couple of different toppings (capers, slivered almonds, sun dried tomatoes, and hot sauce), placed them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and baked them at 350 F (175 C) for 10-15 minutes, just enough for the individual cheeses to warm up and the topping to caramelize.
I served the cheeses at a party, with some crackers (and couple of other goodies), and it was amazing!!! Pictures here tell only half a story, so make thus cheese and see for yourself how the story ends.
Note: I stored the leftover cheese in the fridge and used it the next day to make wonderful sandwiches with roasted red pepper hummus and the cold Baked Sunflower Seed Cheese. Yummy!
Baked Sunflower Seed Cheese on a cutting board, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Cream of carrot? How can that be? Well, it can, and it is, and you will not believe how great this soup is. Carrots are the star, to be sure, but what gives the soup its rich creaminess (without any cream) are the white potatoes, and you want to pick nice, starchy potato variety, like the Russets. The starchier the potato, the creamier the final soup. Usually, the really starchy potatoes don’t hold well to boiling and tend to fall apart. In this case that really does not matter because everything will go into a blender at the end. I do recommend you chop your carrots and potatoes into smaller chunks to speed up the cooking process, but they don’t need to be finely diced.
The potatoes and the carrots cook together with flavor agents, like soy sauce and the Worcestershire sauce, and the spices, like smoked paprika or smoked paprika flakes, garlic powder and ground mustard. I also suggest you use vegetable stock and not water, because a really great stock will extend the richness of your flavors, while water will dilute them out. In terms of what stock to use exactly, you’ll have to try it out and see what you like. Reduced sodium options are probably the best starting point, and you can always taste a bit of the stock before dumping it into the pot. If the stock is not pleasant to drink, it will probably not make for a pleasant soup to eat. I would stay away from roasted garlic infused or very heavy on spices stocks and go with mild almost bland stocks that you can build on and that will not interfere with all the other ingredients you are using.
This soup is in many ways an extension of me using carrots for as many things as possible, including the summer hit – carrot dogs – and some of my baking, like cookies and muffins.
What helps put this soup over the top is just a sprinkle of fresh dill at the end, and a handful of freshly toasted croutons. With all that in place all that’s left to do is grab a spoon and dig in!
Cream of Carrot Soup
What you’ll need:
6 large carrots
2 potatoes, Russet or white
2 tablespoon oil
2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (vegan)
1 teaspoon steak sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika flakes
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons dill, fresh
What you’ll do:
Wash, peel and cube carrots and potatoes. Place in a pot, cover with water and boil for about 15 minutes, until vegetables are just soft but not falling apart.
Drain the vegetables, pat dry to absorb as much of the access water as you can, and place in a large mixing bowl.
Add the oil, spices and sauces and mix well. Let marinade for 30-60 minutes.
Place all the vegetables and the marinade into a blender and add the vegetable stock. Blend until smooth and silky. You can do this step in the mixing bowl with an immersion blender but I think the regular upright blender produces smoother consistency.
Pour back into the pot and bring to simmer. Let the soup simmer gently for 10 to 20 minutes.
While the soup is simmering you can toast some bread, or make some croutons.
Serve the soup with a sprinkle of fresh dill, and some toast, croutons, bread or even tortilla chips on the side. Mmmmm… good!!!
If you think you can’t live without the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with the roasted turkey, mashed potatoes full of butter, the stuffing made with rich sausage, gravy made from turkey fat, sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows, corn bread with cheese, pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream, and so on and so forth, let me reassure you – you can give this all up, and replace it with an amazing and creative plant-based feast that celebrates the season and gives thanks for the bountiful harvest, our friends and families, and our beautiful and extraordinary planet.
I put together this menu as a testament that food can be colorful, flavorful, aromatic, and delicious without major time and money investment. This entire menu will cost you far less than the regular Thanksgiving feast, and instead of leaving you tired and sluggish, it will leave you filling energized and elevated… and ready for whatever Black Friday may bring!
Joking aside, this menu is meant for entertaining and for making a huge impression. As any well-structure feast, my Thanksgiving offerings begin with appetizers. And since the meal is supposed to go on for an hour or more, and includes two dessert options, I am going light with the appetizer spread. My tray includes couple of different types of olives, Roasted Beets Hummus, Baked Almond Feta Cheese, and pita chips. You can make the pita chips by slicing some pita bread into wedges, spraying them with some oil or cooking spray and letting them toast for couple of minutes until golden-brown. Or you can get them at a supermarket, like I did on this occasion.
Baked Almond Feta, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Do remind your guests to take it easy with the appetizers, because what’s coming next is the most amazing soup ever, the Creamy Cauliflower Winter Soup that owes it’s creaminess entirely to puréed cauliflower. The soup is white with slight gold overtones, which in my view frames the season perfectly. Plus corn and peas give this soup some substance and fresh thyme sets the stage for herbs to come.
Main course is a real harvest celebration, with fireworks of flavors and all the trimmings working together to feed the bodies and the souls. The main dish is a lovely Harvest Roast with cubed sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, parsnips, apples and squash, lightly oiled and flavored with herbs of the season. Complementing the Harvest Roast is the Chesnut and Mushroom Stuffing (recipe below). Add to that a protein rich Quinoa with Roasted Cranberries and Pistachios and you have your self an amazing feast!
Last but not the least, the meal ends with a glass of Fizzy Cranberry Mocktail, and two desserts that pay homage to the traditionally served pies, pumpkin and apple. The desserts I feature are Pumpkin Truffles, inspired by the traditional pumpkin pie recipe and spices that go into it, and Pecan Apple Baklava with Orange Maple Syrup, which combines the best of pecan and apple pies into one ultra scrumptious dessert.
Pecan Apple Baklava, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Have a thankful, wonderful, healthy and delicious Thanksgiving feast!!!
Chestnut and Mushroom Stuffing
What you’ll need:
1 yellow onion, finely diced
6 stalks celery, finely diced
2 Granny Smith (or another variety of tart) apples, diced
10 oz. (285 g) mushrooms, finely chopped (white, oyster, shiitake, baby bella – any combination of these will work)
10 oz. (285 g) chestnuts, boiled and chopped
4-6 slices of hearty sourdough bread (depending on the size of the slices)
Fresh sage, 4 leaves, chopped
Fresh thyme, 8 springs, pulled
Fresh rosemary, 2 springs, whole
What you’ll do:
One day prior to making the stuffing cut the bread into medium sized cubes, and leave them uncovered to dry. If you forget to do this a day ahead, don’t worry – you can cube the bread and put it in the oven to roast/toast. 10 minutes at 350 F (175 C) should be enough.
Next day, place a large skillet over the medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, onions, celery and apple. Mix well and let it sauté with occasional stirring for 15 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and two whole springs of rosemary (no need to chop, you’ll pull them out at the end), and continue sautéing for another 5 minutes.
Add the chopped chestnuts, mix well to incorporate, and cook for another 10 minutes.
Add chopped sage and thyme, mix in the bread cubes, and once everything is incorporated well transfer the stuffing to a large baking dish.
Cover the stuffing with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 350 F (175 C), then remove the foil, bring the temperature to 400 F (190 C) and bake for another 10 minutes.
Let the stuffing cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. The leftover stuffing, if you have any, can be an easy lunch on its own!!!
Like a fabulous supporting actor in a movie, the perfect side dish for a rich, holiday meal is subtle and complementary to the lead actors laid out on the festive table, yet able to make a lasting impression of its own.
This Holiday Quinoa with Cranberries and Pistachios is just that – visually pleasing, with layers of complexity in terms of texture and flavors, yet not overwhelming. Additionally, for anyone putting together a vegan, fully plant-based feast this side dish will add lots of protein to your plate.
Quinoa, just in case you are not familiar with it, is a grain, not a cereal, like wheat, but more like rice, and you would cook it like rice as well. When cooked it actually looks like couscous, and you will need to fork it up the same way. Although quinoa is fine served by itself, given that we are in the midst of fall/winter holiday season I decided to add just a bit to it, by adding some chopped pistachios and some oven-roasted cranberries.
One note on cranberries: fresh cranberries are very tart, and almost impossible to eat without adding a huge amount of sugar to them. I decided to try roasting and that worked to a point. Roasted cranberries are still tart, but a bit of tartness in this dish is actually a nice thing. If you prefer something with less bite, toss your cranberries with some sugar or a sweetener of choice, or simply chop some dried cranberries up – those are most certainly sweet.
Quinoa with Roasted Cranberries and Pistachios, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Quinoa with Roasted Cranberries and Pistachios
What you’ll need:
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cup water or vegetable stock
1 shallot, finely diced
1 cup pistachios, chopped
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries – this will yield about 3/4 cup roasted
What you’ll do:
Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C).
Wash and sort the cranberries. Place them on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast them for 20-25 minutes. Once soft and slightly browned, take the cranberries out the oven and set aside to cool for a bit.
While cranberries are roasting, cook your quinoa. Mix 1 cup quinoa with 1 1/2 cups water, bring to boil, decrease the heat to a gentle simmer and let quinoa cook for about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let quinoa stand for another 10 minutes. Use the fork to fluff up quinoa before using in the next step.
Spray the bottom of a skillet with some cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add finely chopped shallots and let them sauté for 5-8 minutes.
Once shallots are done, add chopped pistachios and let them toast just slightly, for 2-3 minutes.
Add the fluffed up quinoa, mix well, and sauté for 5 more minutes or so.
Turn the heat off and mix in the roasted cranberries. Go gently as they will be very soft and falling apart.
Halloween is almost upon us, which means that piles and piles of candy are everywhere!!! Most of the store bought stuff is, of course, not very good for you. Don’t get me wrong – sweets and candy have their time and place, and a little bit of chocolate at the right moment can go a long way towards restoring harmony in the universe. But finding a vegan-friendly treat that’s rich in flavor yet light in calories, that’s healthy yet decadent, is not easy.
Since transitioning into plant-based, low fat, salt and sugar eating and cooking, I’ve been satisfying my sweet tooth with lots of fruit and lots of smoothies, cookies, apple crumbles, muffins, and even chocolate cake that use tons of fruits and sweet veggies (like carrots, bananas, apples, raisins…) to build sweetness without extra sugar. But, there comes a point in everyone’s life when chocolate becomes a necessity, and here’s my answer for those cravings – Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups.
These treats are no-bake and super easy to make. You will need some specialized equipment, like a mini muffin pan, the one with 24 muffin holes, and some mini muffin liners, the same kind you would use to line the pan if you were baking muffins. The liners help hold the cups as well as give them the traditional shapes edges.
When it comes to chocolate, you can use any kind you like. My recipe does not use any additional sweeteners, so all the sweetness comes from the chocolate and from the natural sweetness of the almond butter. That’s why I recommend using semi-sweet dark chocolate that does have some sugar added to it. Alternatively, you can add some maple syrup to the almond butter filling and that will elevate the sweetness level. Having said that, I hope you give my original recipe a try before making adjustments because I thought these Dark Chocolate Almond Butter cups turned out just right!
The recipe could not be simpler. You will need to line the mini muffin pan with liners, melt the chocolate using either a double boiler, which you can make yourself, or a microwave, soften the almond butter and mix it with almond meal and maple syrup extract and then work fast to place a tablespoon of melted chocolate in each mini muffin cup, then place a half tablespoon of almond butter filling, which you will need to shape with your fingers into a tiny patty, on top of each chocolate layer, and finally top the almond butter filling with more melted chocolate.
Assembling these Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups is a bit of a mad dash but it’s also a lot of fun, with melted chocolate dripping and the aroma of almond butter filling. If you are wondering why I decided to add artificial maple syrup flavor instead of the real thing the answer is simple: calories! The flavoring agent adds just enough warmth to the filling and contributes no calories to the final treat. If you bothered by the idea of an artificial ingredient, skip it or replace it with a dash of cinnamon and/or splash of vanilla extract.
Once filled, Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups go into a refrigerator for 30 minutes or so, which will help them firm up. You should leave them out at room temperature for about the same amount of time before serving and you’ll have melt-in-your-mouth, rich and decadent, yet good for you, treat to share (or not!).
Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups
What you’ll need:
2 cups dark chocolate chips or baking dark chocolate chip chunks
1 cup almond butter (unsalted, smooth)
3/4 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon imitation maple syrup (or cinnamon, and/or vanilla extract)
What you’ll do:
Line the 24-hole mini muffin pan with baking liners.
Put your chocolate chunks, pieces or chips, into either a double boiler or a microwave safe dish. If you are using a double boiler make sure you start mixing the chocolate continusouly until melted and smooth. If you are using a microwave I recommend going at 50% power and letting the chocolate go for 1-2 minutes at first and then check it at 30 second intervals. It is usually a good idea to pull the chocolate out when it is about 80% melted and then mix for a minute or two and use the heat of the chocolate to melt the rest.
Place the almond butter in a different bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds. The almond butter should be soft but not runny. Add the almond meal and the flavoring agent of choice. Mix well.
Pour a tablespoon of melted chocolate in each muffin hole.
Use half a tablespoon of the almond butter filling and make a small patty with your fingers. Place the patty on top of the chocolate.
Pour another half a tablespoon to a tablespoon of melted chocolate on top of the almond butter filling.
Place the Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups into a refrigerator for 30 minutes or until firm and solid.
Take the cups out of the mini muffin pan, and let them come to room temperature before enjoying. You can leave the paper liner on, or remove it – it’s up to you. Those liners come in many different designs so you can have lots of fun with those as well.
Several months ago I shared the recipe for a Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala that used jackfruit instead of the chicken and came together in a slow cooker. I still think that that’s a great, flavorful and aromatic dish and if you are looking for new ways of making and enjoying jackfruit it is definitely something you should try. Having said that, someone did ask about what the source of protein was in a dish like that, and although jackfruit, as well as all the other fruits and vegetables on the planet, has some protein it is not a protein-rich food.
So, I went looking for ways to increase the protein content in the plant-based Tikka Masala and found soya chunks. Soya chunks are not something that’s easy to find in US grocery stores. I was able to find them in Serbia easily enough and I have now also found them on Amazon and in my local Indian grocery store. If you have an Indian grocery store relatively nearby, it’s absolutely worth the trip. I find that the prices in the Indian grocery store I go to are on average three to four times cheaper than online, and things like rice, soy and chickpea flour, and spices are a fraction of the price when compared to my regular grocery store or health food store. Most Indian stores have a freshly made food section as well, so although not many items on the traditional Indian menu are vegan, I’m sure you will find a couple worth trying out.
Back to soya chunks now. Soya chunks are made from fat-free soy meal, a by-product of soybean oil extraction. The meal is molded into different shapes and textures (soya chunks of different shape and size) and dried out to create a shelf-stable, long lasting products. I use several different size of soya chunks, depending on what I am making. For example, the size of soya chunks I chose for a dish like chicken-less tikka masala matches the size of chicken chunks, which are usually about 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes. An essential step for almost all soya chunk dishes involves boiling soya chunks in water for five minutes or so to rehydrate them. If you are using very fine soya chunks, like TVP (textured vegetable protein), boiling is usually not required but some soaking will be needed. The only TVP application where I advise against soaking is when making burgers, and you can find out why and how come in my recipe.
For this Chicken-less Tikka Masala to work, you will have to marinade soya chunks in a spice-and-yogurt sauce. Basically, you are following all the same steps as you would if you were making the chicken version of this dish, and by the time you are finished all the marinating and simmering nobody will be able to tell that what they are eating is not the real thing. I recommend marinating soya chunks overnight, but if you are in the hurry starting the marinate in the morning and finishing the dish later the same day will work.
The Chicken-less Tikka Masala is best served with some Basamati Rice, and topped with fresh cilantro. For a full restaurant experience you can add some Naan bread and Cucumber Raita, which you can make easily with some finely sliced cucumber, some yogurt, and a squeeze of lemon juice!
Chicken-less Tikka Masala
What you’ll need:
7 oz (200 g) medium soya chunks
2 tablespoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garam masala
1/2 tablespoon cardamom powder
1 cup cashew yogurt
1 large onion, diced
6 oz (170 g) tomato paste
1 14.5 oz (411 g) can petite diced tomatoes
2 tablespoon vegetable oil (divided)
What you’ll do:
In a large pot cover soya chunks with water, bring to boil, and let cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Transfer soya chunks into a large strainer, rinse with cold water and gently press any access water out. You want your soya chunks to be soft and moist but not dripping with water.
Place one tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan and heat until the oil is hot. Reduce the heat to medium and add the spices (coriander, paprika, cayenne, cumin, garam masala, and cardamom). Toast the spices for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Place the toasted spices into a large mixing bowl and let cool for few minutes.
Once spices have cooled just a bit, add the yogurt and mix well. Next, add the soya chunks, make sure they are well covered with the marinade, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. If you are in a rush you can cut down the marinating time to couple of hours – in that case leave everything on the kitchen counter.
In a large and heavy pot, like a Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over the medium high heat. When oil is heated, add the diced onion and let it brown for 5 to 7 minutes.
Once the onion is browned, add the tomato paste, mix well and let the tomato paste brown slightly. This will take 3 to 4 minutes.
Next, add the marinated soy chunks together with all the yogurt marinade. Mix well, and let the soy chunks brown just slightly. You will need to give it an occasional stir, but the idea is to let the soy chunks get a chance to caramelize on the edges just slightly. This will take about 10 minutes.
Add diced tomatoes, mix well, decrease the heat to medium low, and let the Chicken-less Tikka Masala simmer for 15 minutes or so. This simmering will allow all the flavors to come together more completely, and the sauce to thicken slightly. If you discover that your sauce is not as thick as you like it, keep simmering until you reach the consistency you like.
Let’s cut to the chase and be honest here – although we can pretend otherwise, we are all as obsessed with lasagnas as Garfield is! The layers of soft noodles, amazing sauce, fresh herbs, and most commonly lots and lots of ground meat and soft cheese. All this means that lasagnas are not the healthiest thing on the menu. Having said that, there is no reason to ban lasagnas from your plate; you just need to learn how to keep it healthy and plant-based, and I think I can help you to troubleshoot both of those problems.
Keeping lasagnas meat-free seems to be the problem many have tackled, usually by overloading lasagna with cheese, cheese and eggs, or cheese and a selection of vegetables, like mushrooms, and increasing the amount of tomato sauce and making it chunkier. But, really the most prominent ingredient in majority of meatless lasagna recipes is the cheese. When I was developing this lasagna recipe I did not want to give up on idea of “meat”, so what I came up with is a hearty, meaty, and flavorful walnut and brown lentil “meat” ragù base. My thinking was inspired by my previous, wildly successful Meatless Shepherd’s Pie, which I served for Easter this year as a substitute for a more traditional, lamb-based dish. In that recipe, lentils, mixed with ground mushrooms and cooked with rosemary and thyme, made for an amazing feast.
Here, I wanted to recreate the traditional meat ragù and went for a combination of chopped walnuts and dark lentils. The trick is too cook the lentils separately and add them to the rest of the ragù when they are fully cooked. Also, chop your walnuts into pieces that are about the size of what ground meat pieces may look like. I chopped the walnuts by hand, just by going over walnut pieces with a knife few times, back and forth. You can buy whole walnuts, or walnut halves in store and start from there, but for this a bag of walnut pieces will make your life easier and make the dish cheaper. Walnuts work really well in this lasagna, because they add some of their natural crunchy texture, protein, and a bit of fattiness to the otherwise very lean recipe. Worried about this extra fat? Walnuts are known for having a lot of unsaturated fat, which is the good kind, so don’t skip it! The meatiness of the ragù is further enhanced by a good amount of tomato paste and crushed tomatoes and letting the ragù simmer for a while.
The preparation of any lasagna happens in several stages and this one is no different. In order to make the process more efficient I recommend that you start roasting the zucchini at the same time you start making the ragù, and then start boiling the lasagna noodles when zucchini is just about done. In that way you don’t even need to turn the oven off, you can just lower the temperature from roasting to baking and be ready for lasagna to go in immediately. Please note that I don’t use zucchini as a complete lasagna noodle replacement. I suppose you could, but then you’ll end up in a more of a Zucchini Mousaka territory than lasagna paradise. If you are concerned about gluten, there are now many gluten-free lasagna noodle options for you to choose from and most of them work perfectly.
The final touch on this lasagna is the Béchamel sauce (besciamella), which is a white sauce traditionally made with milk, butter and flour. In this case, the quick white sauce I put together requires only a blender, some soft, silken tofu, a squeeze of a lemon, and a bit of nutritional yeast. It is very much the blend-and-pour type of sauce, so you can do it a in a blink of an eye. The sauce adds a nice, slightly cheesy flavor to this very rich lasagna, and makes for a nice, almost golden glaze.
Zucchini Lasagna with Walnut and Brown Lentil Ragù
What you’ll need (for 9 x 13 in (23 x 33 cm) baking dish):
8-10 lasagna noodles, gluten-free if preferred
1 lbs (450 g) brown lentils
3 zucchinis, cut lengthwise into long strips
2 large carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup raw walnut pieces, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 can (28 oz, 800 g) crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
3 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
1 lbs (450 g) silken tofu
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
Cooking oil spray
What you’ll do:
Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).
Prepare the lentils according to the instructions on the bag. Basically, bring 4 cups of water to boil and add the lentils that have been washed and picked over to remove any impurities that may have made their way to the lentils. Bring the lentils back to boil than lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 20 minutes or so, until lentils are completely cooked. Drain the lentils from excess water and set aside to cool.
While the oven is preheating, and lentils are cooking, prep your veggies. Peel, wash, and dice the onions and carrots, and wash and dice the celery. Wash the zucchini well, remove the ends, then cut into long, thin strips. You can use a mandolin slicer for this, but cutting by hand also works. The zucchini slices should be as close to the thickness of the lasagna noodles as possible, but you don’t need to go crazy here – just keep in mind that a bit thinner is better.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place the zucchini slices on and spray with cooking spray. You may need to use two baking sheets, since you may discover that you can’t manage to have all your zucchini slices arranged in a single layer. Don’t pile the zucchini on top of each other and do roast in batches if needed. Place the zucchini “lasagna noodles” into the oven to roast. The roasting will take anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes and will depend on the thickness of your zucchini. Keep an eye on the oven and if you are roasting two pans of the zucchini at the same time do rotate the pans mid way through the roasting. You will know that the zucchini is done when the edges are slightly brown and the middle is golden. Once you take the zucchini out, decrease the oven temperature to 350 F (175 C).
While the zucchini is roasting, start your the ragù. Spray the bottom of a Dutch oven, or another type of heavy pan, with cooking spray and heat up over the medium to medium high heat. Add carrots, onions and celery and let them brown for 10 minutes. Add chopped walnuts and let them pan roast for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and basil, and let the flavors develop for a minute. Next comes tomato paste – add it to the pan, mix well and let brown just slightly. This takes about 2 minutes or so. Add the cooked lentils and the crushed tomatoes, and mix well. Let the ragù simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the heat off, add the fresh parsley and mix well to combine.
Once the ragù is simmering, it’s time to start cooking your lasagna noodles. Most varieties ask for a large pot of boiling water and about 10 minutes of boiling time. The noodles don’t need to be cooked all the way through as they will continue to cook in the oven but they do need to soften quite a bit, so 8 to 10 minutes should be enough to achieve that. Drain the noodles and use immediately.
Combine tofu, lemon juice and nutritional yeast in a blender and blend until smooth. Set the besciamella to the side.
Spray the bottom and sides of your 9 x 13 in (23 x 33 cm) pan with some cooking spray. Cover the bottom liberally with the ragù (use about a half of the amount you made), layer the first set of noodles (for me that came to about 5 noodles per layer), then layer the zucchini in a single layer, pour the rest of the ragù, and top with the remaining noodles. Pour the besciamella over and cover with foil.
Place the covered lasagna into the 350 F (175 C) oven and let bake for 30 minutes covered and then about 10 minutes uncovered. Let the lasagna sit for about 10 minutes before serving. I like to add some freshly ground black pepper or a mix of black pepper and red pepper flakes to my lasagna just before enjoying, but you can also sprinkle some fresh parsley, or fresh basil. Have fun!
You probably know that veggie burgers are going through somewhat of a revolution, with companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, leading the way within US in creating plant-based products that taste and look like the real meat. I have not had an Impossible Burger yet, but I can attest to Beyond Burger being everything its creators wanted it to be – a plant-based burger that looks, cooks and tastes like fresh ground beef burger. It is absolutely spot on, thanks to some interesting protein biochemistry and biophysics that transfrorms pea protein into ground beef, as well as the use of plenty of fat for that greasy burger feeling, and a good amount of salt. And fat and salt are likely two components of this burger that, in addition to getting the texture of the protein component just right, make this type of burger so realistic and so delicious and so addictive.
Indulging in one of these burgers as an occasional treat is all fine and good, but making it on a daily basis is almost us unhealthy as eating the beef patty. That’s why I’ve been focusing on creating plant burgers (call them veggie burgers if you like) that can work on a grill or in a grill pan, look very burgery, and taste great without huge amounts of salt and fat. My blog now has the entire section dedicated to Burgers, Hot Dogs & More. Some of the burgers I made taste very much like a beef patty, some less so… At the end, what I discovered is that plant burger needs to pass two tests in order to qualify for being on my plate: it has to hold its shape well and sustain grilling on the grill or in a grill pan, and it has to taste amazing. Any burger that checks those two boxes off deserves to be shared!
The patty I am sharing today has three twists. Twist number one is that I decided to try using avocados as a fat source to add some juiciness to the burgers. Avocados, also known as Alligator Pear – isn’t that awesome? – are not something I ever considered cooking with but we recently had a huge avocado sales in my local grocery store and I got more than I should and there is a limit to how much avocado toasts one can eat in a week, so I was looking for something else to do with them. The idea to try making a burger with avocados was inspired by their high fat content and their creamy consistency (when they are ripe and perfect). I did quite a few internet searchers to see what other have done, but I could not find a single recipe that used avocados inside the actual burger patty. So, off I went to see if Avocado Burgers can be made into reality.
My twist number two is one of my favorite tricks to add umami flavor to just about anything – finely ground mushrooms. They work wonders in a dish like Meatless Shepherd’s Pie, or more generally any time you want to recreate that special “je ne sais quoi” of ground beef.
Final twist to this story is using extra firm tofu that has been frozen for few days than thawed all the way over the course of one to two days in the refrigerator. Freezing and defrosting tofu changes its texture daramatically. The tofu becomes tougher and stronger, and it absorbs the marinades and flavors better. There are no tricks to freezing tofu in my kitchen as I just put the container tofu comes in from the store into the freezer, but if you need a more refined method The Spruce has detailed step by step instructions. Before you use tofu, drain it well and then dig in – use your hands to press and squeeze and get the excess water out. I suppose you could use the tofu press for this or a method where you place tofu slices between paper towels and place a large weight on top for twenty minutes, but because tofu that’s been frozen then defrosted has this tougher and stronger texture, using your hands actually works quite well. Plus, you can easily go from squeezing to crumbling, which is the next step. At the end you will end up with a pile of small tofu crumbles.
To this pile of crumbles you will add mashed avocado, ground mushrooms, tomato paste, and couple of staples when it comes to boosting umami and grilled food flavors: soy sauce or liquid aminos, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. The patties will be soft so it is a good idea to stick them into the fridge or a freezer to firm up before cooking. I felt like pairing only some crispy lattice with this burger but pickles, mustard, ketchup, tomatoes, and all the other common burger fixings will go well with it too!
Avocado Burger, step by step, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
What you’ll need:
1 16 oz. (450 g) block of extra firm tofu, frozen then thawed
8 oz. (225 g) crimini (baby bella) mushrooms
1 large avocado, ripe
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, vegan
1 tablespoon soy sauce or liquid aminos
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Cooking spray (for the pan)
What you’ll do:
Freeze the tofu few days in advance and when completely frozen take it out of the freezer and leave it in refrigerator for a day or two, until completely defrosted. Drain the tofu and using your hands squeeze the water out of tofu. The tofu should feel like a relatively tough sponge soaked with water at the beginning, and at the end it should feel moist but not dripping wet. Crumble the tofu into a large mixing bowl.
Chop the mushrooms using a food processor until they are finely ground. Few chunkier bits here and there will not hurt but try to get the mushrooms to be about the same consistency as your tofu crumbles. Add to the tofu.
Cut and peel the avocado, and scoop out the green flesh into a small bowl and mash with the fork until finely mashed. Ideally the avocado should be as smooth as you can get it, and if you are using a perfectly ripe avocado this should not be a problem. Side note: If you discover that your avocado is tough that means that it is not ripe enough. If your avocado is turning black it means that it is past its prime. Unfortunately, when it comes to avocados only the perfectly ripe, perfectly green and perfectly soft will work, for this or any other recipe. If your avocados are tough to touch it means they need to ripen and you can help them out by putting them in a paper bag, closing it tightly and leaving them on the kitchen counter overnight. That usually helps – and if they are really, really green you can a ripe banana to the bag to help avocados along.
Add the avocado purée to the tofu mix, as well as the rest of ingredients.
Mix well to combine using your hands. You want to work the mix a bit, which means squeezing and mixing at the same time. Once everything is combined together, use your hands to form patties. Place the patties onto a tray lined with wax paper, and put them into the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes or into a freezer for 15 minutes or so.
Heat your grill pan or a cast iron skillet over the medium high heat. Spray with cooking spray and add 2-3 patties at a time. You need to leave enough room around tha patties to be able to flip them so keep that in mind. Cook on one side for 5 minutes then flip over and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until both sides are nice and brown.
Serve on your favorite hamburger bun with your favorite toppings. And in case you have couple of avocados still left over, go wild – slice them up, toss them on top, and have yourself a Double Avocado Burger!
The path to fabulous vegan fresh mozzarella is long and slippery- meaning that it will take you about two to three days to have ready to eat batch of cheese on your hands, and there are few places along the way where a little mistake can derail your cheese making process. Having said that, I found Jules’s recipe to be clear and helpful, and the final result AMAZING!
I made only some minor adjustments to the recipe, as I used cashew yogurt for fermentation stage of the mozzarella, and agar powder and tapioca starch to firm it up – Jules recommends Kappa carrageenan powder and tapioca flour (which I think is the same thing as tapioca starch but it’s worth mentioning as a point of difference)!
The process starts, as many vegan cheeses do, by soaking some nuts. I usually cover the nuts, in this case cashews, with water and leave them in the fridge overnight. The next step for this cheese is blending the well soaked cashews, that have been drained and rinsed, with some almond milk or water until nice and smooth – I used almond milk.
Then, you add yogurt – here I used an amazing Cashew Yogurt by Forager – cover with cheese cloth and leave on the kitchen counter for a day or so. Make sure that your yogurt contains live cultures as you want the bacteria to start the process of fermentation and acidification, yielding a nice, subtly tangy flavor.
The penultimate step is adding the thickener to the cheese mix, cooking it until it starts to thicken to a consistency of very thick oatmeal, porridge or polenta.
While the cheese was cooking, with frequent stirring, I made the brine. I used tap water and ice cubes, plus a tablespoon of plain kitchen salt since that’s what I had handy, and mixed it all until salt was fully dissolved.
Once the cheese was cooked, I used my measuring spoon (tablespoon size) to measure out cheese balls, formed a bit with hand – watch out here as it may be hot, so you can form the balls using two spoons at the same time. Dump the balls into ice/water/salt mixture, cover with cheese cloth and leave in the fridge overnight. Jules recommends at least 4 hours, so I just left my fresh mozzarella cheese balls to rest until the next day.
Waiting wasn’t easy but it was worth it!!! I got some fresh baguette, fresh basil, a ripe tomato, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and my homemade vegan fresh mozzarella, and made myself a phenomenal sandwich for lunch.
I transferred the fresh mozzarella with the brine and all into a container with a tight lid, and stored it in the refrigerator. It lasted for about one week, at which point it was all gone!!! I will be making some more soon, but next one from Jules’s book I want to try is an almond-based baked feta!!!
Since this post is all about another person’s recipe, I am not sharing the notes, but encourage you to go visit Jules’s site, and get her book or better still borrow it from your local public library, which is what I did. I am happy to share what my Caprese Salad in a Sandwich looked like – it’s a real feast for your eyes!!!
Most people probably think “bubble tea” when they hear “tapioca pearls”. But these delicious little pearls are definitely worth getting to know more intimately, especially in the context of gluten free cooking. They are inexpensive and very simple to make. They actually require no cooking – just soaking – so although no cooking skills are required, some level of patience (and a good amount of time) is.
Before we go any further lets try to answer this questions first: “What are tapioca pearls?”. They can come in different sizes and colors. The ones I will focus here are white and small, close to the size of Israeli couscous. But unlike the couscous, which is made with wheat and thus off limits for those watching their gluten intake, tapioca pearls are made from starch extracted from cassava root. So, they are little starch balls when all is said and done. Think micro potatoes that don’t need peeling!
If you are into Indian food, you have likely already had some tapioca pearls because they are often used to make desserts, like kheer pudding. Earlier this summer I had some homemade Sabudana Khichdi and I loved it. Sabudana Khichdi is a traditional dish and usually consumed during Hindu fast days. The dish includes tapioca pearls, finely chopped, cooked potatoes, finely chopped peanuts, finely grated coconut flakes, and a nice combination of spices (curry leaf, cumin seeds and green chilis). There are some variations on the recipe and the ingredients may vary depending on whethe Sabudana Khichdi is served during the fast or outside the fasting days, and my friend who made the dish for us also mentioned that a more protein-rich version of Sabudana Khichdi can be made using quinoa, and she suggested I check a blog by another friend of hers called Indfused, which I did and so should you, especially if you are interested in creative Indian/American fusion cooking (FYI: Infused is not a vegan blog, so keep that in mind).
Back to the the version of Sabudana Khichdi I had – it was a delicious addition to our summer cook out and prompted me to get some tapioca pearls of my own and start experimenting. The recipe below is the second iteration and deviates from the original recipe quite a bit. I took some liberties so my Tapioca Pearl Salad is Sabudana Khichdi inspired, but not meant to be “traditional” in any way. First point of difference is that I left the potatoes out. In my view, leaving potatoes out does not affect the taste nor the nutritional profile of the dish, yet saves some time and effort. I also left the peanuts out and replaces them with slivered almonds. I used slightly different spice mix, to make the dish a bit more fragrant. Finally, I toasted my coconut flakes, because in my mind coconut is just better toasted!
The key to making tapioca pearls is patience. All you need to do is rinse the pearls in cold water, then soak them in enough cold water, usually in 1:2 ratio (for example 1 cup pearls and 2 cups water), for 2-3 hours. How do you know they are ready? They should feel loose, not stuck together, and soft, yet slightly chewy, to bite – think pasta al dente. You can go a bit further if you prefer softer texture, but you do want your pearls to remain pearly, not mushy, so don’t overdo it.
Now a key to make the dish really flavorful and spices vibrant, is toasting the spices. I use a frying pan here, and, although you can dry toast the spices, I do add a bit of oil in this case and let the spices toast for one to two minutes before adding the almonds to finish it off. I pour the toasted spice and almond mix over the drained tapioca pearls, instead the other way round, but that’s more of a personal preference I suppose. The toasted coconut flakes come next, and the chopped fresh cilantro is the final touch. You can serve this dish immediately, you can heat it up more and serve hot, or you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight and serve it cold. It actually works across the range of temperatures so it could work as a surprising pasta salad at your next picnic. It is a great, easy and inexpensive dish to make for your next pot luck or any other get together!
Tapioca Pearls with Almonds and Toasted Coconut Flakes
What you’ll need:
2 cups tapioca pearl
4 cups water
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup coconut flakes or shreds, unsweetened
2 tablespoon vegetable (or canola) oil
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
What you’ll do:
Rinse the tapioca pearls under cold water and place into a large bowl. Cover with water and let stand for 2 to 3 hours. The pearls will absorb water and they should become soft and al dente.
Drain the pearls well, pat dry with a paper towel and put into a large mixing bowl that you will use for serving as well. You can use the same bowl you used for soaking just remember to dry it well in the meantime.
Heat the oil over medium high in a large frying pan. Add the dry spices (cumin, curry and turmeric powder) and toast in oil for 1 minute.
Add slivered almonds and toast for another 2 to 3 minutes, until almonds start to brown.
Pour the hot almond and spice mix over tapioca pearls and mix well.
Toast coconut flakes in a toaster oven or a frying pan for 2-3 minutes. You need to keep an eye on your coconut flakes as they go from beautifully toasted to inedible in a blink of an eye! If you are using the frying pan, you can use the same pan you just used for almonds and spices, just don’t add extra oil as coconut flakes should be fatty enough.
Add hot, toasted coconut flakes to your tapioca pearls and mix well.
Let the mix stand for couple minutes and while those flavors are combining, wash and chop fresh cilantro.
Sprinkle the cilantro over your tapioca pearls, mix again and serve!
For me, pasta salad is a conceptually hard thing to swallow since I equate salads with (mostly) green leafy vegetables. Growing up, there was a clear separation between salads and pastas in my mother’s cooking and our family meals. But, after living in US for almost two decades, I’ve come around and appreciate that pasta salads have a place on my plate, especially if I am holding that plate during a large summer cookout or a potluck.
Having said that, I still think that many pasta salads leave a lot to be desired as they tend to be overloaded with mayonnaise, meat or even cheese. So, I decided to develop a pasta salad recipe that is simple and light, yet full of flavors and surprising textures.
The recipe below really blew me away! It’s super simple, uses only six ingredients, it takes less than twenty minutes to make, and it is a perfect pasta salad for big get togethers because it is super inexpensive.
The recipe is very simple and self-explanatory. Few tips here are: don’t cook your pasta for too long, drain it well but don’t rinse; mix the pasta with the rest of ingredients while it’s still hot, and then let it cool while the flavors are developing and merging; and if using kalamata olives in oil, scale back on the amount of olive oil you actually add – otherwise you’ll end up with something that’s too oily, which will be too bad!
And speaking of olives – kalamata olives that I get come with a nice level of acidity so I don’t feel like I need to use extra vinegar when I’m using them. This means that my recipe below does not include vinegar. Now, if you like a bit more tang, feel free to add some lemon juice or a dash of red wine vinegar to adjust the acidity level in this salad to your personal taste.
Finally, if you don’t have a box of penne rigate on hand, don’t worry. You can use any spoon friendly pasta for this – meaning not long pasta. Why do I recommend NOT using long pasta? Well, if you are thinking of this salad as picnic, pot luck, sharing-with-friends-and-family friendly, then help your friends and family help themselves by not having to wrestle with long pasta. I also think that tubular pastas work better for this recipe than flat ones – think penne, ditalini, macaroni as better, and farfalle as perhaps less suitable for this recipe – as tubular pastas have a bit more surface area to absorb the subtle flavors. And among the tubular pastas, those with ridges will work just slightly better because of the same surface area availability principle I mentioned. Having said all this, and having dragged you through likely totally unnecessary details on how to choose just the right pasta for this recipe, I’d like to stress again – just grab a box of pasta you have on hand and it will be just fine!
STOP: I just remembered – I would not recommend black bean pasta for this. I did not like the flavor of that one when I paired it with my Clams-free “Clam” Sauce and can’t recommend it for this application either. 😦
Simple Summer Pasta Salad
What you’ll need:
12 oz (340 g) penne rigate pasta
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup olive oil, extra virgin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons fresh basil
What you’ll do:
Cook the pasta following the instructions on the box. Don’t overcook it – the pasta will be ready when it is slightly chewy to the bite.
While pasta is cooking, chop the olives and the fresh basil leaves. Put to the side.
Drain the pasta well and place in a large mixing bowl. Add oil, chopped kalamata olives, garlic powder, and mix well.
Toast the almonds in a toaster oven or on the stove top in a heavy skillet. Watch the almonds constantly as they do burn quickly.
Add the toasted almonds to the rest of the pasta salad, mix well and leave for an hour or so.
Add fresh basil just before serving, toss everything together and enjoy. The result is fragrant, complex in flavors and textures, yet simple and cheap to make, perfect summer pasta salad.
10000 views… I can’t believe that my tiny, homemade, low key, experimental, and very much just for fun blog recently hit a phenomenal milestone: 10000 views!
I am still in a bit of disbelief about it all, to be quite honest and totally humbled, yet thrilled.
Although I can’t explain how I went from my very first posted to 10000 views in less than 6 months, I’m guessing that this is a sign that there are many of you out there who are looking for guidance, inspiration and help in transitioning to 100% plant-based eating and cooking, while at the same time staying within a reasonable budget.
I can only hope that at least some of you have found my recipes to be yummy, homey, inviting, creative, entertaining and pure fun, which is what this entire transition to vegan cooking has been for me. Thank you for joining me on this journey and for helping me along the way with your kind comments, suggestions and many, many engagements.
And… this being a vegan, plant-based, healthy cooking type of a blog I thought that it would be cool to say a huge “Thank You, All” with some cake. So, thanks everyone – I hope you enjoy this Dark Chocolate Brownie “Thank you!” Cake, and come back again for seconds!!!
The recipe is super simple and uses ripe bananas as an egg replacement, and lots of dark, Dutch process cocoa. It also uses a simple trick to transform almond milk into almond butter milk by adding a tiny amount of cider vinegar to almond milk and letting it stand for fifteen minutes at room temperature before using. Finally, to help the dark cocoa release its color you will need to use some hot water.
Putting all this together, you will start by mixing dry ingredients in a large mixer bowl separately from wet ingredients (all except water), combine them together and then add the hot water gradually as you mix, keeping a close eye on consistency. You want your batter to be smooth and fluid, but not completely liquid. The recipe below makes two 8 in (20 cm) round brownie cakes, or one 9 x 13 in (23 x 33 cm) rectangular cake. I recommend lining the bottom of your baking pan with some parchment paper, as this helps get the cake out. In principle you could bake this cake in a springform pan, and it should pop right out.
The cake tastes rich and decadent, yet it’s relatively light in terms of the ingredients and especially in terms of added sugar. The bananas help not only hold the cake together, but add natural sweetness to it, so you can use 1/3 amount of sugar that a cake of this size would normally use. Of course, you are not limited to sugar and can use a sweetener of your choice, including artificial sweeteners if that’s what you like or need to use.
Dark Chocolate Brownie “Thank You” Cake
What you’ll need:
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa, Dutch-processed
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup almond milk, unsweetened
3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 bananas, pretty ripe, brown ok
1/2 cup powdered sugar, vegan (+ 1 tablespoon for dusting)
Mix the almond milk with apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice) and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. This will be your almond buttermilk.
In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of your standing mixer, combine all your dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder).
In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients except the hot water. Note that powdered sugar and the bananas count as a wet ingredients. I recommend that you use a blender to cream your bananas, although you could simply mush them with a fork. Either way, make sure that your wet ingredients are fully mixed together and as smooth as possible.
Next, slowly add your wet ingredients into the dry ones. For this, I keep my standing mixer runing on low, and pour the wet ingredients in, bit by bit.
Let everything combine before adding the hot water. I recommend adding 1/4 cup water at a time, slowly so that you are in full control over the consistency of your batter. It should be smooth and pour out with ease.
Line two 8 in (20 cm) round cake pans with parchment paper and pour the batter in.
Put in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes.
Take the cake out, flip it out of the pan, and leave it to cool for 1-2 hours.
Cut into wedges and sprinkle with powdered sugar, coconut flakes and orange zest. Serve and enjoy!!!