Gluten-free Baked Falafel

This past weekend, Gennaro and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary in Ann Arbor, MI, where we were married. While we were there, we tried to not read anything into the fact that the original Borders Bookstore, a staple throughout both of our college experiences in Ann Arbor, was in total liquidation mode. Everything in the store was going at 40-60% off prices (I did some research, though, and it turns out Borders was opened in 1971, so if it is a sign, at least Gennaro and I have about 40 years ahead of us). Anyways, I managed to put the sadness and nostalgia on hold for about 40 minutes while I switched gears and channeled the inner bargain shopper in me. Naturally, I pushed my way to the territory with which I’m most familiar: the cookbook section (note to anyone visiting a megastore bookstore with me: if I’m lost, you will undoubtedly find me in the cookbook aisle).

While the cookbook area was largely picked over, I managed to snag a few new ones to add to my growing collection. The store’s last copy of the Skinny Bitch everyday cookbook — nestled among the store’s diet and weight loss offerings — was a steal at $10. But the ultimate steal of the day came in the form of a bargain-section cookbook called Vegetarian Cooking: A Commonsense Guide. Neither vegan nor gluten-free, this cookbook managed to grab my attention by virtue of its $5 original price tag, which came to about $2.50 with the store-wide discount. I figured even a minimal amount of gluten-free or vegan recipes could be justified at that cost.

Less than a week has passed since my purchase, and I’ve already flagged several recipes that I’m dying to try. Between the Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern selections in the book, there’s plenty to choose from for the gluten-free/vegan crowd. This falafel recipe the first to be inspired by my new book (of course, I can never follow a recipe exactly without adding my own twist). With dried chickpeas instead of canned, the chickpea flavor is slightly more pronounced than with the homemade falafel recipes I’m used to. My twist? I baked the falafel instead of deep frying it, which still yielded a satisfying crisp-on-the-outside, slightly soft on the inside result. Then I played with the proportions of herbs and spices, which I feel is an obligatory step for any at-home falafel maker (who doesn’t want homemade meals to be customized to their taste?)

I served this with some gluten-free lavash and a kale salad made with red onions, cucumbers and tahini dressing. It would be great in a wrap, served alongside rice and hummus as a main course, or served with tahini dressing for dipping as a side.

Yield: approximately 14 falafels

Serves: 5-6

Baked Falafel:
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking: A Commonsense Guide

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked 18-24 hours, drained well

½ bunch fresh curly parsley

½ bunch fresh cilantro

½ large yellow/white onion

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

Olive oil for brushing

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Add all of the ingredients to a food processor fitted with a sharp blade (except olive oil). Process until smooth and green in color. The end result might feel a bit wet to work with, but it should still hold together when gently formed into patties.

2. Scoop with an ice cream scoop or large spoon into heaping rounds, roll with hands, then lay flat on a lightly greased or silpat-lined baking sheet. Very gently flatten with palm. When all of the patties are formed, gently brush tops with olive oil.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, flipping falafels after approximately 10 minutes (or until firm enough to slip and browned on the bottom), cooking until the tops of the second side are golden brown.


 

 

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Roasted Tomato-Basil Pasta Toss

First, let me start by saying that I have been an absolutely horrendous blogger of late. I’ve neglected my inbox, let comments go unnoticed for days — heck, weeks. And I haven’t posted since, I don’t know, 6 weeks ago?

Second, let me explain. As I alluded to in previous posts, the year of 2011 marks an exciting yet stressful transition in my life. I got a job in Michigan, and a job that I love at that (hence, the excitement). When the position became permanent in February, my husband was still working in New York and in limbo, waiting to see what would come of my temporary status. Long story short, from February until now, we have put our New York apartment on the market, sold our apartment, my husband has moved out to Michigan, and we are now living with my parents, using my parents cars and basically freeloading until we can find a place and get settled here. Therein lies the whole “stress” part of the equation.

Now here’s the kicker. Remember my stress and anxiety over taking the New York bar exam last year — the exam I vowed I would never, ever take again under any circumstances? Remember my excitement upon finding out I had passed last November? Well, I have to do it all over again. Alas, a little thing called “reciprocity” (or lack thereof) stands in the way of my New York scores being relevant here in Michigan. So, in the midst of a new job, no home, and closing our apartment sale in New York, I am now studying for the bar exam (again).

I hope, given the circumstances, I will be excused for my horrid blog upkeep of late.

Anyways, in other news…My parents recently returned from the 2011 Vegetarian Summerfest and they were absolutely blown away by the amazing experience. Armed with t-shirts, books and other propaganda from their trip , my mom declared herself a reformed woman upon their return. (To think that just a year ago they were just flirting with the idea of vegetarianism). From the eye-opening talk of S.A.E.N.’s Michael Budkie on animal research labs, to Woodstock Animal Sanctuary‘s Co-Founder Jenny Brown, to Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn‘s informed presentations on the effects of a plant-based diet on heart disease and health, the trip was truly life-changing and educational for my parents. I’m especially jealous that they got a sneak-peak at my girl Marisa’s upcoming documentary Vegucated, which I’m told was every bit amazing as I expected it would be (and my parents are not known to hold back their opinion on such things).

Among the trinkets of knowledge my parents brought back to Michigan with them were the health implications of a high-fat, high-oil diet. I’m much too busy and tired to veer too far into a debate on the virtues of a high-fat/low-fat diet, but it was interesting to me that multiple renowned heart doctors echoed the theory that “good” fats such as olive oil and nuts are really not that good after all. True or not, I’ve always been open-minded about different dietary protocols, because it just means more of a challenge for me. I love a culinary challenge, and taking fat and oil out of a roasted tomato pasta sauce seemed like the perfect place to start. The end result, with sweet basil and tomatoes in peak season this time of year, was a rich and flavorful sauce that didn’t miss the oil or fat (or gluten! or meat!) at all.

Roasted Tomato-Basil Toss:

1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes

1 cup vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable broth

1 tablespoon white wine

2 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced

small pinch of salt

fresh ground black pepper (to taste)

1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

1 lb. gluten-free spaghetti

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. In a shallow baking dish, toss tomatoes with wine, broth, salt, pepper and garlic. Bake in preheat oven for 20 minutes, toss, then return to oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions, drain and rinse if required. Immediately return pasta to pot and toss with roasted tomatoes and basil. Add additional salt to taste and serve.

 

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Tofu Scramble

My mom and I have been brainstorming our Easter Day menu and decided on a brunch theme. When I started this new “diet,” brunch was one of those things that was out of the question. Now, it’s one of my favorite menus to experiment with. I love a challenge. The latest brunch challenge that’s eluded me of late is a crustless vegan quiche recipe. I’m working on perfecting it before next weekend. In the meantime, I’m posting this tofu scramble recipe I’ve had in my archives, for those who might be looking into planning their own Easter menus in advance. I am well aware that tofu scramble is far from the most innovative of vegan recipes, but it’s hearty and healthy and it’s always a welcome accompaniment to roasted potatoes and vegetable in my home.

The truth is, I’ve never make this recipe the same twice. The one posted here is the only one I took the time to write down, but really, it’s pretty amenable to change. For a more Southwestern theme, you can reduce or even omit the turmeric and add some chili powder, melt some vegan Daiya shreds on top and finish with salsa and diced avocado. For this particular recipe, I also went a bit lighter on the spices than I’m used to, but figured my readers are all quite capable of — and likely inclined toward — making their own adjustments. Although it’s not pictured, I usually saute some portabello mushrooms with the onion and red pepper. Portobellos are my absolute favorite addition to tofu scrambles.

Tofu Scramble:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

3/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon dried mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 lb./15 oz. extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Directions:

1. In a large saute pan or skillet, over medium-high heat, add oil, onion and pepper. Saute until onions begin to brown and soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds. Add spices and toss with vegetables.

2. Add tofu and toss with spices and vegetables until coated and colored. Add salt and white pepper and toss. Saute for about 3 minutes, or until water is evaporated and tofu is slightly browned. You can add more turmeric for color or cumin to taste, plus more salt to taste. Serve immediately.

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Fusilli with Broccoli and Cheese Sauce

Well, I’m back in New York for the week to visit my husband (if this last sentence confuses you, see: coconut macaroons — the post, not the actual recipe). I brought some work with me to do during the day while Gennaro is at work. Otherwise, I had a chance to catch up on some of my favorite T.V. shows (my parents don’t have DVR. Enough said).

Bravo was nice enough to provide a gratuitous Bethenny Ever After marathon on Monday. I have to say, maybe it’s the name (I’m a Bethany), or the fact that there’s a cute baby on the show pretty much all the time now (Gennaro would probably have a field day with this one. He knows how I feel about cute babies. I can’t say he’s not a little worried about it, actually), or maybe it’s the whole New York aspect (there’s something fascinating about watching others navigate the city you live in/lived in for four years). Whatever it is, though, I find that show to be the ultimate in my guilty pleasures. And now I’m caught up. Vacation: successful.

Then yesterday Oprah replayed her “going vegan” episode, where 300+ Oprah staffers signed up to go vegan for a week. Of course, as a vegetarian/vegan who has been known to try to gently convince others of the merits of a vegan diet from time to time, (and who says this doesn’t work? My parents went from reluctant to full-throttle — they’re actually signed up to go on a vegan retreat this summer. By their own free will) it made me giddy with excitement to see that some Oprah staffers not only felt better after a week of going vegan, but that they were going to stick with the plan indefinitely.

Then again, it made me sad to see that some folks were less than enthused about their new food options. As someone who does not eat gluten or animal products on a regular basis (if at all), I am used to the questions and cringing from others over what my diet consists of. In those moments, I feel some sense of duty to channel my inner salesperson and convince others that not only am I not deprived, but that I’ve actually never been more satisfied with my diet (and that is really the truth). But I have to say, I felt for Kathy Freston when it was on her shoulders, alone, to do that with hundreds of Oprah staffers at one time. Sometimes, defending your food can be exhausting.

As a blogger, things get even more complicated. I’m putting myself — and my food — out there, so it’s much more likely to be analyzed (Whoah, that girl eats wayy too much Daiya cheese! Probably true.) On the one hand, I would like to be able to say, “It’s my blog, so I can do what I want.” Still, on the other other hand, I feel a sense of duty to those who might be curious about or just starting a gluten-free or vegan or sugar-free diet. I truly want to show people how satisfying these diets can be, which is why I started this blog in the first place. Plus, I want to provide a variety, so everyone can enjoy at least something on this site.

This dish was inspired by that mindset. I am always asking myself, if I could make one meal to convince someone that “gluten-free, vegan” doesn’t mean lettuce and sunflower seeds for eternity, what would it be? My lasagna? My tempeh tacos? I tend to think comfort foods are the most longed-for when we’re overhauling our diets. I already have a macaroni and cheese recipe on this site, but this really easy, somewhat sophisticated version is the ultimate in comfort fare. It’s rich and creamy, but ultimately full of fiber (brown rice pasta) and healthy veggies (a full head of broccoli).*

So, next time Oprah and her staffers need convincing, I would send Kathy Freston this recipe to make for them.

Fusilli with Broccoli and Cheese Sauce:

1 lb. brown rice fusilli pasta

1 head of broccoli florets, chopped

salt to taste

Cheese Sauce:

1 1/2 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1 1/4 cups unsweetened soy milk

1 1/2 cups Daiya cheddar-style shreds

Directions:

1. Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot of salted water. Add broccoli during lasting minute to two minutes of cooking. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, while pasta cooks, melt buttery spread in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in soy milk, then Daiya and stir until cheese is completely melted, about 5 minutes. Add drained pasta and broccoli back to pot and pour in cheese sauce. Stir to coat completely. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

It’s worth explaining that I view carb-laden recipes as wasted calories if they’re not infiltrated with something healthy like broccoli or other veggies, which might explain my broccoli with mac-and-cheese streak on this site.

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Portobellos and Gravy

When I began transitioning to a vegan diet — almost a year ago now — I knew there would be moments of concession. I was always one of those people who said things like “I could easily go vegan if I had to…except for…” and that’s where I decided it didn’t matter, because no one’s putting a gun to my head and making me go vegan. But then I learned a few things about where my, say, chicken was coming from, and someone might as well have put a gun to my head. Because that was it. Suddenly, after all of those hypotheticals, I had found myself in as close as I would ever come to a “had to” moment. As in, I felt I had no choice.

While I’m no longer pining for things like sushi and roasted chicken like I used to, I am finding that there are moments where concessions still are made. At times — a small fraction of the time, really — I find myself having to make a choice to stay on course, even when it’s not entirely easy. Usually, it is.

But now — and is it just me? — it seems like the whole low-carb/no-carb phase has gotten it’s second wind, and I can’t help but feel annoyed by the whole thing. Like, “didn’t we go over this already?” Bacon and eggs for breakfast might make you skinny, but it isn’t going to win you any brownie points with your cardiologist.

It seems we’re often prone to conflating the notion of “dieting” with healthy eating, when the two are often incompatible at best.  So when I saw an article in Reader’s Digestthis weekend that reinforced the notion that carbs are our enemy and thrice-daily servings of meat, dairy and eggs will solve all of one’s problems with weight, I was simultanously annoyed yet eager to one-up the consulting Reader’s Digest Dr. with my own, healthier version of a low-carb meal plan.

Ok, confession time. There have been a few times in my life when I’ve succommed to the whole no-carb thing, which has always lasted for maybe a day. That is, once I remember that not having at least some sort of grain or starch during the day makes me feel rather nauseated, which is not a feeling I particularly enjoy. To be fair, though, I am equally affected by carb overload, which usually has the effect of making me extremely tired and unusually hungry during the day, no matter how much I eat.

I admit to having a tendency toward the latter when I’m going on instinct. I prefer tortilla chips to nuts as a snack, and cereal to a protein shake for breakfast. Adding the vegan element only further challenges me to think a little harder about how to get enough protein and vegetables into my diet without overdoing it on the carb front. I know, I know. I’m reading The China Study as we speak. Our requisite protein intake is, indeed, often overstated. But I nevertheless feel more energized and healthy when I’m swapping out at least some starch for protein-packed foods. I’ve decided, then, that this is not one of those areas where I’m going to make a concession just because animal protein isn’t on my grocery list.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to challenge myself to come up with as many low-carb, vegan dishes as I can think of. I find that when I have a good amount of recipes and ideas in my arsenal (and on this site) I’m never at a loss when it comes to my meals.

I started with a simple, mushroom-based dish, atop a bed of mashed cauliflower (a low-carb classic). You can serve this as a side dish, or as a hearty main course along with some green beans and almonds, or with some soy tempeh for protein. There’s something very nostalgic to me about anything in gravy, which is why I imagine this is a great dish for anyone longing for a “classic” American dinner, veganized (and low-carbized), of course!

Protobellos in Gravy:

6 portobello caps (stems removed), dirt removed with a damp cloth, sliced

2 tablespoons soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread, divided

2 tablespoons brown rice flour

2 cups vegetable stock

parsley for serving

Directions:

1. Heat 1 tablespoon buttery spread in a large skillet. Add mushrooms and saute for 1 minute, until they just begin to moisten and soften. Remove from pan.

2. Melt remaining butter and add flour to the pan. Stir with butter until a crumbly paste forms, then add the broth. Whisk or stir constantly to prevent clumps until the broth begins to thicken and boil.

3. Add back mushrooms and heat for another minute, or until mushrooms are softened. Remove from heat and serve over mashed cauliflower or potatoes or with wide noodles for a Stroganoff knock-off.

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Winter Rice Bake

Well, I’m a delinquent blogger. While my fellow, more disciplined, blogging buddies have likely supplied their readers with things like year-end lists of their favorite recipes or healthy detox recipes for those ready to start the new year off on a healthy foot, here I am, presenting an everyday recipe — a simple, no-frills baked rice dish. Sure, it’s quite healthy in its own right; brown rice, leafy greens, low-fat Cannellini beans, butternut squash. But it’s not necessarily a detox-friendly dish (unless you’re on a detox that allows for processed foods, and I’ve not heard of any of those myself).

Still, after contemplating my own list of favorite recipes (after awhile I felt like a bad parent, not wanting to make any of the other recipes feel bad) and reminding myself that I’m not a person who likes the all-or-nothing resolution diet attitude (I prefer a year-round, more balanced approach), I reassured myself that there are at least some out there who are open to an easy, comforting winter dish. As many of you gear-up for a return to the 5 day work week and cold months ahead, consider this one antidote to all of that work and cold, and presumably, tiredness.

Oh, and in keeping with my New Years delinquincy, I am writing this post while I should be paying attention to the Michigan bowl game. However, the performance on the field is such an atrocity, I can find comfort only in writing to all of you. Let’s hope 2011 is a better year for my Wolverines. Maybe someone should tell them to eat some black-eyed peas…

Serves: 4-6

Winter Rice Bake:

3 cups butternut squash; peeled, seeded and cubed

1 teaspoon olive oil

3 cups swiss chard, chopped into short ribbons

3 cups cooked short-grain brown rice

1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup Daiya vegan mozzarella-style shreds

a pinch of salt to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Toss butternut squash with olive oil and lay flat on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until soft.

3. Reduce oven heat to 350. Meanwhile, toss together butternut squash with remaining ingredients. Taste for salt. Spread into a baking dish and bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 5 minutes, or until edges are golden. Serve.

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Tempeh Tacos

Despite my absurb amount of recipe trials and experimentation, there remains the rare gluten-free or vegan ingredient that continues to confuse and peplex. Tempeh is one of those ingredients.

Given that I follow a gluten-free, vegan diet, you’d think tempeh would be a staple. Even if not, you’d think I could include the rare, gratuitious tempeh recipe for those who do enjoy the stuff. Until now, this was in fact nearly impossible for me to do without jeopardizing my credibility and testing my conscience. Why? Because, until now, I simply hated tempeh. Every time I made it, I’d suffer through the eating part —  if only because the only thing I hated more than the tempeh I just made was the concept of wasting food.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information: while most recipes I’ve seen for tempeh call for boiling it or marinating it first to get rid of its strong flavor, I have yet to find a package of tempeh that mentions this seemingly “necessary” step. This is strange to me, since I am now convinced that most people who, like myself, think they don’t like tempeh would reconsider if they knew about this key step in its preparation. And while I could easily find this tip in any number of other places, because I’ve never seen it on a package, I considered it an extra hassle (why boil something for an extra 10 minutes if you don’t have to?) that I didn’t really feel like going through. My bad.

So maybe it’s not necessary, but it’s a very, very good idea — especially if you’re a tempeh skeptic like myself. I’m excited that I have another gluten-free, vegan protein option to experiement with, now that I have the inside knowledge that a tiny step can make all the difference.

It’s no secret in our house (apartment) that taco night is Gennaro’s favorite. I feared after going vegan that he would not appreciate the drastic changes that overtook one of his favorite meals. Out were fish tacos and chipotle slaw. In were chickpeas and tofu. I’m not really a believer that good vegan food necessarily has to mimic meat. Still, there is the occassional exception — especially when you’re trying to convince the non-vegans in your life that vegan food can be just as satisfying as meat-laden faves. This dish is a great way to prove your point.

Tempeh Taco Filling:

1 package soy tempeh (double check to make sure it’s gluten-free), cut into strips

1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari soy sauce (or regular soy sauce if you’re not gluten-free)

1 tablespoon agave nectar or yacon syrup

2 tabespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup no salt added tomato paste

2 tablespoons chile powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

salt to taste

2 tablespoons water

Other Possible Ingredients:

gluten-free corn tortillas (I used sprouted corn)

lettuce (I like the crunch of iceberg in tacos — yes, I know it has no nutritional value)

tomatoes (I used halved grape tomatoes)

guacamole

salsa

vegan sour cream

vegan cheese (I like Daiya cheddar-style shreds with tacos)

anything else you normally like on your tacos

Directions:

1. Prepare filling: bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add tempeh and boil for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together tamari sauce, agave, olive oil, cider vinegar, tomato paste, chile powder, garlic powder, cumin and cayenne. When you are finished boiling the tempeh, drain and toss with sauce, gently breaking up tempeh with your fork. Add tempeh filling to a large skillet, along with 2 tablespoons of water. Heat on high for about 4-5 minutes, or until filling is heated through.

3. Serve in warmed gluten-free tortillas with desired toppings. My favorite way to warm corn tortillas is to heat both sides over a skillet until softened. Then I wrap in aluminum foil and let warm in a 200 degree oven until I’m ready to serve.

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Tofu Broccoli Stir-Fry

While I like to consider myself a healthy person, this classification is occasionally challenged as I learn about the food philosophy of some of my blogging peers, read a report on the potential dangers of an ingredient I’m frequently using, or listen to someone else’s take on what we should be putting into our bodies. While healthy debate and ongoing curiosity about our ideal dietary choices is probably a good thing, at times the information can be downright confusing. Depending on who you listen to, either fat, carbs, protein, soy, sugar, cooked food or processed food is the enemy.

I am not a doctor, a nutritionist or a scientist. Maybe this is the reason I’m not firmly committed to any one philosophy. I stopped eating animals because I learned the backstory of what happens to them before they’re our food (though I’m also fairly skeptical of the healthiness of many animal products). I stopped eating gluten and sugar because bloodwork results told me these were two of the reasons I was constantly sick. Pretty much everything else is (almost) fair game.

That said, I do adhere to some personal — albeit somewhat loose — rules for what to eat. They are as follows:

1. Too much of any one thing is probably not a good thing.If I eat a carb-loaded breakfast or lunch, I’ll go with salad for dinner. If soy has been a constant presence for the day, I make sure to ease off of it for awhile. While fruit is full of vitamins and often fiber, it can also be high in sugar, so I eat it much less often than I would actually like. This “rule” could probably re-stated as follows: much like one’s investments, one should diversify her diet.

2. Whole food is almost certainly better than processed.But I won’t kill myself over the occassional processed ingredient, because I’m fairly sure that it’s not going to kill me.

3. Listen to your body.I stopped eating kiwi when I was about five years old because it made my throat itch like crazy. I was not yet reading full books or doing fractions, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out when something’s not right. Your body is smart. Listen to it.

4. Have an open mind.

My final rule — to be open-minded — sort of indirectly inspired this stir-fry. Over Thanksgiving, my uncle loaned my mom this book called Eat to Beat Cancer*. The book lays out a general diet plan for cancer prevention, along with individual sections aimed at preventing specific types of cancers. But the primary focus of the book seems to be on the list of super cancer-fighting foods from different foods groups, along with a few common foods to avoid (dairy being the main culprit). Some might scoff at a book that professes to help prevent a disease that has preyed on many seemingly healthy, active, health-conscious people. But my take is that there’s really no harm in making a point to eat more of at least some of the foods on the list, many of which are indisputably healthy in their own right. And if it helps to prevent cancer, well, hooray! If not, what did I really lose?

Of the foods that jumped out to me from the book were broccoli, soy and sesame seeds (now do you see where this stir-fry comes into play?) Still, you can basically choose any protein or vegetables you wish for your stir-fry. The sauce is really the star here, and will probably bring any combination of other ingredients to life. I’ve been trying out stir-fry sauces for seemingly as long as I can remember, and have never been completely happy with how they turned out. Whether they were too salty, too sweet or too sour, I’ve just been somewhat unimpressed until I tried this recipe the other night. It’s not necessarily adapted from any recipe in particular, though it’s probably inspired by many of those I’ve seen over time. Just the perfect sauce to help get more broccoli, tofu and sesame into my diet — whether I really need it or not!

* Bonus fact about the author: according to Amazon.com, he received his doctoral degree in environmental toxicology from my alma matter, The University of Michigan (so this book must be legit).

Serves: about 4

As far as I know, pretty much every ingredient for this stir-fry can be purchased at Trader Joes or at your local grocery store. I love when that happens; when a recipe is accessible to just about everyone.

Stir-Fry Sauce

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

3 tablespoons wheat-free tamari (of course, non gluten-free folks can use regular soy sauce)

3/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 tablespoon agave nectar

2 teaspoons cornstarch (or arrowroot starch)

2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

You will also need:

15 oz. extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry, cubed

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I used grapeseed)

1 head broccoli florets, roughly chopped (about 4 cups)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Directions:

1. Whisk together all ingredients for stir-fry sauce. Set aside.

2. Heat oil* in a large (preferably non-stick) skillet. Add tofu and saute over high heat, stirring occassionally, until all sides are lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add broccoli and stir-fry sauce and toss until broccoli has softened and sauce has reduced by about half, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sesame seeds. Serve over brown rice or with rice noodles.

* I also saw on Dr. Oz that tossing your food in the oil before cooking instead of heating the oil in your skillet helps to preserve the benefits of whatever oil you’re using. I didn’t do this (I forgot), but you could always toss your tofu in the oil first if you wish to do so.

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Red Lentil Kibbeh

Growing up in Metro Detroit, I took for granted that I was living next to a national resource: Dearborn, Michigan, which boasts one of the largest Arab populations outside of the Middle East. It was only when I moved out to New York that I realized not all cities — not even what many consider the greatest food city in the world — are home to a plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants like Dearborn is, all lined up, one after the other, like a virtual Vegas buffet of Middle Eastern dining options. Perhaps I also took for granted the fact that kibbeh — a popular Lebanese dish — was a staple when we ate out; I’m surprise to find it on virtually zero menus here in NYC. Growing up, I remember it well: a baked dish made with lamb and cracked wheat and pine nuts. I thought it was delicious, and equally so when I occasionally ordered a vegetarian version (what it consisted of, I have no idea), or — eek — the infamous raw stuff: a blend of raw ground meat, cracked wheat and spices.

With Thanksgiving looming last week, I was eager to find a main dish that would make me wonder why turkey was ever the preferred option. I thought about a lentil loaf, and tested a few recipes for that. Never a meatloaf lover in the first place, I keep thinking there must be a better option, which is when I considered revamping my lentil loaf into a lentil something else. And that’s when my years of kibbeh experience came into play (as I consider kibbeh to be a meatloaf of sorts), and how I ended up having a kibbeh Thanksgiving.

Not to worry: turkey was not totally forgotten this holiday season. I “adopted” a rescued (formerly slaughter-bound) turkey named Jordan through Farm Sanctuary. His favorite foods are carrots and kale (some kind of a health nut, this Jordan) and he’s “youthful and kind.” It’s funny. This time last year I was researching brining techniques, brainstroming recipes for turkey leftovers and sneaking bites of the dark meat as my dad did the carving. This year, I’m saving turkeys from becoming food. What a difference a year makes, indeed!

Jordan

Luckily, this lentil kibbeh is not nearly as seasonal as most Thanksgiving fare. It’s a  versatile dish that can be enjoyed any time of year, and in many ways. While Gennaro enjoyed some wrapped in a whole wheat flatbread, I had mine with salad and some tahini dressing. And while this version is baked in croquettes (a popular traditional kibbeh preparation), the “batter” can also be spread into a square baking dish and baked into a casserole for an additional ten or so minutes, then cut into squares. If you’ve never had kibbeh before , think a moist, tomato-ey version of baked falafel.

Red Lentil Kibbeh:

Note: 2 hours of inactive prep time

Yield: 30-35 croquettes

I used Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Farina hot cereal in this recipe to mimic the traditional cracked wheat. I imagine — for those without allergies or intolerances to gluten or wheat — that a dry cream of wheat would also work here, though I’m not entirely sure (it’s been so long since I’ve had the stuff!) I also used a no salt added tomato paste here, though if you can’t find any, reduce the salt to 1 teaspoon instead of 1 1/2. I think this kibbeh is best drizzled with tahini dressing.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for spraying or drizzling

2 1/2 cups diced onion (about 1 large onion)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry red lentils, rinsed and picked over

2 1/2 cups water

1 cup dry Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Farina

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/3 cup no salt added tomato paste (if using regular tomato paste, reduce salt)

Directions:

1. Saute onions over medium-high heat in olive oil until they begin to soften and become transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute. Set aside.

2. To a medium-sized pot, add red lentils and water. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for five minutes. Add brown rice farina and stir to combine. Turn off heat.

3. Stir onions and garlic into the lentil mixture. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine, lightly mashing lentils with the back of your spoon. Set aside to cool. When cooled, refrigerate mixture for 2 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 400. Remove mixture from refrigerator and begin to scoop out using 2 large soup spoons. Use spoons to shape kibbeh into oval-shaped croquettes. Lay croquettes onto a pre-greased flat baking sheet. Spray or drizzle tops of kibbeh with olive oil (I used olive oil spray to get an even coating). Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes (check for browning after about 20 minutes), or until bottom of kibbeh is browned and tops are crisp. Enjoy hot and crisp, at room temperature or refrigerated.

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Butternut Squash Lasagna

This will be my first Thanksgiving sans turkey. And while I’m not exactly sad about it, it did get me thinking about ideas for how to create a delicious vegetarian Thanksgiving. My family has always taken a pretty traditional approach to Thanksgiving. We’ve never been a sage-in-the stuffing, skin-on “smashed” potatoes kind of crew. But I’ve always appreciated a good Thanksgiving-inspired recipe that colors outside the lines a little.

I also recently noticed that the ubiquitous fall ingredient — butternut squash — has been noticeably absent around these parts. My friend Liz sent me a great recipe for butternut squash soup with a curried apple chutney. But every time I had the squash, I didn’t have apples. When I had apples, I had no squash. When I had vegetable stock, I had neither squash nor apples. Then today, I found myself with squash, lasagna noodles, some Daiya cheese (I know, it’s about time I seek help for my affinity for fake cheese), and all the ingredients I needed for my pine nut ricotta. I’m sure you can figure out where this is leading. And while my family will likely be celebrating Thanksgiving with the expected mashed potatoes and stuffing, I’m thinking this will make a great vegan side for a large, adventurous group, or even a main course for a small family.

This Thanksgiving, I will be SO THANKFUL for passing the NY Bar Exam!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I figure it’s only fair to share my joy here, where I’ve also lamented for months about my stress, anxiety, sleepless nights and endless studying. Thanks, all, for your support and well-wishes during a trying but ultimately rewarding time.

Butternut Squash Lasagna:

3/4 cup raw pinenuts, soaked for 4 hours, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 box Tinkyada gluten-free brown rice noodles

4 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced (about 18 oz.)

3 tablespoons sage leaves, roughly chopped

1 cup Daiya vegan mozzarella, plus more for top

Directions:

1. Prepare filling: in a blender or food processor, add soaked pine nuts, lemon juice, water and salt. Blend until smooth. Set aside (keep in food processor).

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of hot water to a boil. Add butternut squash and boil for about 4 minutes. Remove from pot (leave hot water for noodles) and drain. Add lasagna noodles and cook according to package directions, undercooking by a few minutes. Drain and rinse.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Rinse squash with cold water and add squash to food processor. Process until squash pieces are small and mixture is relatively smooth. Stir in sage leaves.

4. Assemble lasagna: add a layer of 3 noodles flat to the bottom of a baking dish. Spread about 3/4 of the squash-ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles and sprinkle 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup cheese over the squash mixture. Repeat 2x. Place remaining noodles on top and sprinkle with additional cheese.

5. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake, uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.

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