Cauliflower Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells

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Cauliflower Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Ever since I’ve decided to transition into 100% plant-based eating, I’ve been going easy on pasta mostly because it is yummy and enjoyable, yet not really all that great for you given the calories and starch. I’ve tried some replacements, like spaghetti squash, which made a great Pad Thai, and black bean pasta, which made an awful base for my “Clam” Sauce.

Of all the things I’ve tried, zucchini noodles are simply the best! They work really well with meatballs or even lighter veggie toppings that I’m thinking of ditching spaghetti all together.

But, there are some dishes that are hard to imagine without pasta, like a very simple yet incredibly delicious pasta salad I made at the height of summer season, and these stuffed jumbo shells right here.

The shells are stuffed with cauliflower “ricotta” and spinach mirroring a very traditional ricotta cheese and spinach stuffed shell recipe. The shells I use here are the “jumbo” kind, and their name is well-deserved. Two or three of these makes a solid serving size, so the recipe below ought to serve four people easy.

The main departure I took from the traditional recipe, which is vegetarian, is to skip the tomato sauce, usually a simple marinara, and to use my own creation, a cauliflower “ricotta” cheese, which makes this recipe dairy-free, vegan, and plant-based.

The cauliflower “ricotta” is inspired by cashew ricotta that I’ve made in the past. I was very curious about whether cauliflower can help the basic cashew ricotta recipe (some great examples here and here), and retain all the creaminess while cutting down the cost (frozen cauliflower is cheaper than raw cashews), and the calories and fat (cauliflower has far less calories than cashews and no fat!).

The cauliflower “ricotta” works well here, and it’s a useful cheese alternative to have for other pasta dishes, or a lasagna. Amazingly, what puts this entire dish over the edge is actually a tiny bit of nutmeg. Just a pinch goes a long way, so be careful not to overdo it.

Cauliflower Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells

What you’ll need:

16 jumbo shells, boiled

1 bag (1 lbs; 454 g) frozen chopped spinach

1 bag (1 lbs; 454 g) frozen cauliflower

1 cup cashews, soaked overnight

1 tablespoon white miso paste

1 teaspoon yellow mustard

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Cooking spray

What you’ll do:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add the shells and let them boil for 8-10 minutes. Take the shells out, rinse with cold water, and place them aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
  3. Cook the cauliflower and spinach according to the instructions on the bag. You can use a microwave or a stove top method and you don’t need to thaw the vegetables but I recommend that you squeeze the access water out before using. Keep the cauliflower and the spinach in separate bowls. Cauliflower should take about 10-15 minutes to cook, and spinach about 5 minutes.
  4. Place the cooked cauliflower, soaked cashews, and the rest of the ingredients into a food processor and process until you reach the consistency of ricotta cheese.
  5. Spray the bottom of 8 x 8 in (20 x 20 cm) with cooking spray and pour in 1/2 cup of cauliflower “ricotta” and spread around to cover the bottom.
  6. Using a tablespoon, spoon some cauliflower cheese into a shell, then some spinach, and place into the baking dish. Continue with the rest of the ingredients until all the shells have been filled.
  7. Spread any leftover spinach and/or cauliflower ricotta over the top, spray with a bit more cooking spray, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more until the top is golden and sides are slightly browned.
  8. Let the stuffed shells rest for 5 minutes before serving then enjoy!

Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2018

Easy Spanakopita Rolls

 

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Easy Spanakopita Rolls, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Let me describe Greek and Middle Eastern pies. They are made using very thin sheets of dough, called phyllo dough, and than build by either interleaving layers of phyllo dough with a filling or by rolling/holding the filling in phyllo pockets or rolls. As you can imagine, these pies are diverse and varied, as many different ingredients can be made into an amazing pie filling. If you still have trouble picturing what one of these pies may look like just think of baklava, probably the most famous of phyllo based pies.

Some of my favorite phyllo pies are cheese pie, mushroom pie and spinach pie. This last one has been brought to the frozen sections of most grocery store chain in US and known as spanakopita.

Traditionally, spanakopita recipe uses spinach as a central ingredient and combines it with cheese, eggs and onions to create either a rolled or layered pie that is served both warm and cold, usually accompanied by a yogurt drink.

Now I offer you a vegan version of this pastry that uses almonds and nutritional yeast as a substitute for cheese and eggs. Here I used store bought phyllo dough sheets precut into triangles that I picked up in an Indian store. You can use any phyllo dough you like, or make your own.

The spanakopita rolls come together quickly and bake to a lovely, crispy appetizers that are easy to pass around. They are also a great breakfast item, a quick snack or a dinner add-on. As I mentioned, you can eat them hot or cold, but they are really the best served fresh from the oven as while their phyllo dough exterior is crunchy. They will get soft as they sit for few hours or overnight so if you plan to serve them the next day you’ll need to reheat them in a toaster oven.

 

Spanakopita Rolls

(Makes 24 rolls)

What you’ll need:

24 triangle-shaped thick phyllo dough sheets (or thinner phyllo dough sheets stacked 2-3 together and cut to triangle pieces)

4 cups frozen spinach

1 cup almonds, dry roasted

1/4 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Olive oil, or olive oil cooking spray

What you’ll do:

  1. Preheat the 400 F (200 C).
  2. Soak the almonds in cold water for 1-2 hours at room temperature or in the fridge overnight. Drain to remove excess water, add nutritional yeast and lemon juice, and start grinding to a fine paste, adding the almond milk slowly. You may not need the whole 1/4 cup or you may need a bit more – you be the judge because what you are looking for is a nice smooth  consistency of a paste, not a sauce.
  3. Place frozen spinach in a large mixing bowl and purée using a hand held immersion (stick) blender. You can also purée the spinach in a food processor.
  4. Combine spinach with the almond paste and mix well. Add the spices and mix again.
  5. Lay out the piece of phyllo on a flat surface, spray with cooking spray, or drizzle a drop or two off olive oil, and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of spinach pie filling onto the long end of the pastry then roll towards the tip. Tuck the ends in and place on a baking sheet. I like to line my baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean up, but that’s not really needed.
  6. Once all your rolls are ready, spray the tops with cooking spray or drizzle oil, and put in the oven for 25-30 minutes. You want the tops golden brown.
  7. Let the spanakopita rolls cool for 10-15 minutes and serve.

 

Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017

Vegan Saag Paneer

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Vegan Saag Paneer with Saffron Brown Basmati Rice, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Few days ago, I shared my recipe for Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala that uses young jackfruit as a substitute for chicken, and slow cooker as a substitute for using ghee to enhance the flavor, as well as huge time and effort saver. Since then I decided to tackle another jewel of Indian cuisine, Saag Paneer. Saag is a traditional Indian dish made of leafy green vegetables, which is a vegan friendly part of this equation, and paneer is soft, white cheese very common in South Asia, a vegan less friendly ingredient. Putting green leafy vegetables, like spinach, together with cheese, spices and cream is a no-brainer, so it is no surprise that Saag Paneer is very popular.

In order to build a vegan version of Saag Paneer, I focused on transforming extra firm tofu into paneer. This turned out to be easier than I expected. First of all, texture of extra firm tofu and your average paneer are very similar. Additionally, they both have mild flavors and creamy consistency. So far so good!

You do need some time and patience with this one though. I prepped tofu the way I usually do by leaving it in the sieve in the fridge overnight. You can use any other method of getting rid of the excess moisture – I prefer the sieve because it requires no work, cans and paper towels are tedious and a bit wasteful, and I am yet to invest in the tofu press. The next morning I cubed the tofu, and let it “marinate” in the dry spice mix for 4-6 hours.

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Vegan Paneer, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Even after sitting in the spice mix, the tofu paneer is not quite ready. Although you can use it, I strongly recommend that you first roast the tofu for 20-30 minutes. This roasting step locks in the spices and adds slight crunchiness that makes every bite a treat.

Few additional tips that will help you put this dish together are to do with spinach. I use frozen chopped spinach, as it is ready to go. The traditional Saag Paneer recipe uses quite a bit of cream to make the spinach nice and creamy. I use coconut milk to add a bit of creaminess to it, and the coconut milk adds a bit of its own nutty flavor that I enjoy. But, I don’t rely on coconut milk alone and have discovered some time ago that stick (also known as hand or immersion) blender is indispensable for creating spinach that’s beyond creamy! If you don’t have a stick blender, you can use a blender or a food processor to purée your spinach.

Once the spinach is puréed, it is ready to meet the tofu paneer, and after about 15 minutes of simmering the Vegan Saag Paneer will be ready to meet your taste buds!

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Vegan Saag Paneer, before the final mix. Via Eat the Vegan Rainbow

Vegan Saag Paneer

What you’ll need:

For tofu paneer

14 oz. (400 g) extra firm tofu

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

For creamed spinach

2 lbs (1 kg) frozen, chopped spinach

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

7 fl. oz. (200 mL) coconut milk, reduced fat

Cooking spray

What you’ll do:

  1. Place tofu into a strainer and leave in the refrigerator to drain overnight. Then pat dry with a towel and cut into 1 in/2.5 cm cubes.
  2. In a ziplock bag mix dry spices (garam masala, ground cumin and garlic powder) and add tofu cubes to it. Zip the bag and toss gently to coat the tofu pieces evenly. Leave in refrigerator for 4-6 hours.
  3. Heat the oven to 425 F (220 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and space tofu cubes evenly with some room between the cubes. Don’t brush the spice mix off, just roast the tofu pieces as is for 10-12 min, then go in and flip them over and put them back for another 10-12 min, so that they roast on all sides and get golden brown.
  4. On the stove top, spray the bottom of your pan with cooking spray and heat to medium high. Add minced garlic (I prefer the jar variety that taste great in a dish like this and requires no work), and let it start to develop the aroma for about 1-2 minutes. Next add the tomato paste, and let it mature for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add frozen spinach. Cook with occasional stirring for 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 15-20 minutes, add coconut milk, and then purée with a stick blender until smooth.
  6. Add roasted tofu and mix gently until tofu is well incorporated. Simmer for 15 minutes. Enjoy with a piece of naan bread, or with Saffron Brown Basmati Rice.

Note: please note that unlike most Saag Paneer recipes I do not add spices to spinach. The flavor intensity comes from tofu paneer, so it is important that your tofu is well coated with the spice mix and nicely roasted until golden brown.

Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017