Vegetarian Pho

Anthony Bourdain (among others) would likely have a field day castigating the notion of a vegetarian pho. But with all due respect to Mr. Bourdain, whose No Reservations sits atop my list of all-time favorite shows, I would have to say that he has no clue what he’s talking about when it comes to the often polarizing subject of vegetarian food. I’ve been living in New York for about three years now, slowly accumulating a list of favorite meals I’ve enjoyed as a resident. I’ve noticed a burgeoning trend when it comes to this list: the majority of my favorite meals here have been meatless. From the delicious, almost euphorically good Mulata arepa at Caracas Arepa Bar to the dosas and dahl at Jackson Diner. And to me, a great falafel from any of the city’s many falafel trucks is more New York than a dirty-water hot dog. Even vegan ice cream (to many, an oxymoron) is well represented by Stogo, my favorite local ice cream shop.

Just recently, I discovered a wonderful neighborhood joint called Lan Cafe. It’s one of those places I’ve walked by several times, but never stopped long enough to pick up a menu or consider ordering from there. Then last week I found myself deep in the thrust of a bad cold. I didn’t want to cook, I barely even wanted to eat, but the one thing I wanted badly was a good, spicy soup. Turned out, my hundreds of trips walking past Lan Cafe paid off, because I remembered that it was a vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant, which meant vegetarian pho. Theirs was delicious — a sweet and spicy blend of deep flavors and bright notes of cilantro and mint. I told myself that when I recovered, I would try to recreate their pho and post it here.

One reason I wanted to make a homemade pho was that, while Lan’s was certainly delcious, I suspected there was some hidden sugar in theirs — both in the broth and in the hoisin sauce, which is a must for an optimal pho experience. I decided to experiment with making a homemade hoisin sauce. It turned out super good! The best part is, it can easily be used for a number of dishes, and you won’t have to worry about the processed sugar that is in just about all store bought hoisins I’ve seen. So below, I’ve included a recipe for the hoisin I made along with the pho recipe. It’s somewhat of a labor-intensive process to prepapre everything, but well worth the effort, and you’ll have a big pot to last you all week. For my recipe, I used Chinese Five Spice powder instead of steeping the broth with cinnnamon, clove and star anise. My Aunt Sue bought me a nice blend of Chinese Five Spice for Christmas and I’ve been dying to use it in something.

Vegetarian Pho:

1 quart vegetable stock

5 cups water

1 long ginger root, cut into quarters

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice powder

3 tablespoons reduced-sodium wheat-free tamari

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1 bunch baby bok choy, chopped

1 cup bean sprouts

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

3 scallions, chopped

1 block extra-firm tofu, cubed

1 package rice noodles

salt to taste

homemade hoisin sauce (recipe below)

chile garlic sauce/paste (to taste)

fresh mint leaves (for serving)

fresh cilantro (for serving)

lime wedges

Directions:

1. In a large soup pot, bring vegetable stock, water, ginger root, garlic, five spice powder, soy sauce and pepper to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain broth into a new, clean pot. Discard solids. Add agave nectar and salt to taste. Bring stock back to a boil and add vegetables and tofu. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables have softened.

2. Meanwhile, prepare rice noodles separately, according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

3. To serve, individually add rice noodles to bowl. Pour in soup. Top with a generous dollop of homemade hoisin, chile garlic paste, and top with mint and cilantro leaves. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

Homemade hoisin:

1/4 cup black bean paste (found in Asian food aisle)

1/4 cup agave nectar

1 plum tomato, roughly chopped

5 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon arrowroot

2 teaspoons chile garlic paste/sauce

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.

2. Transfer to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes.

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Veggie Burgers

These delightfully yummy patties also happen to be healthy; they’re a good source of protein, fiber and antioxidants. Sunflower seeds also lend a daily dose of vitamin E and nearly half a daily dose of magensium. I have been expertimenting with veggie burgers for quite some time. I was on a bean-burger trial period for awhile, but most of them ended up quite dry and tasteless, to my dismay. Next there were the nut burgers, which had quite the tendency of hardening-up a little too much when they were even slightly overcooked. Seeking a soy-free recipe for veggie burgers, I was beginning to fear a decent recipe was far out-of-reach, until my cousin requested suggestions for what to do with the extra nut paste she had made for my Raw Vegan Sushi Rolls, I finally had the idea of some sort of burger made with the walnut, sunflower seed paste, brown rice, carrots, ginger and a little cilantro — an Asian veggie burger!

Below is a recipe based on that original idea, but scaled way down time-wise so that anyone coming home late can throw together a decent meal. There are a few ways to do this: 1) prepare everything, including rice, process it and cook on-the-spot, 2) buy some pre-cooked brown rice from trader joes and have sunflower seeds soaked and ready to go so that you can puree the ingredients whenever you want to make these, or 3) process the mixture in a food processor and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Make into patties to order — whenver you’re in the mood for a quick meal or snack.

Yield: 5-6 patties

Vegan, Soy Free Veggie Burgers:

1 cup cooked brown rice

1 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked for 2 hours, drained and rinsed

1 medium red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup red onion, minced

3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

olive oil for cooking

Directions:

1. Puree the above ingredients in a food processor, using a sharp blade, until there are no large chunks and mixture can easily be formed into patties with hands.

2. Form into patties about 1/2 inch thick.

3. Heat a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet and add a few teaspoons to a tablespoon of oil. When skillet is hot, add patties. Cook on high until browned, about 3 minutes per side.

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Raw, Grain-free, Vegan Sushi Rolls

Let me first apologize to those sushi purists out there who object to anything rice-free being called sushi (which literally means “vinegared rice,” not “ground nut and vegetable thing”). I am sincerely sorry. Second, let me apologize to those raw purists for calling this dish “raw” even though the recipe calls for a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil and nori, which is lightly toasted as well. I thought I could sneak it past everyone, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I would just come out with it (any true raw purists out there who know whether either of these ingredients is actually forbidden? I would actually love to know). I have to confess as well that this was not my genius idea, but a treat I have enjoyed several times at the Living Zen Organics Cafe at the Detroit Zen Center — a place I’ve praised here before, and one I’ve included in my “Delectably Free Faves.” Being a frequent visitor of the cafe whenever I am back in Michigan, I have had the privilege of being able to study their raw sushi enough to pay homage to it with a version that is somewhat distinct in flavor and texture, but still quite good. In fact, Gennaro, my harshest taste-tester (by default, really, because he is the only person who samples all the meals I make before posting them here), gave this dish a “very good,” which translates to two thumbs up from him (I’ve learned to decode his comments after years of experience, being that he is un-critical by nature, which has proven to be both a blessing and a curse).

This dish also seems like an appropriate continuation of the holiday detox theme. This is a carb-free sushi that provides several health benefits from walnuts, which are high in fiber (a must for any successful detox), vitamin E (good for the brain and the immune system) and omega-3 fatty acids (also good for brain health and immune function, as well as well as beneficial for cardiovascular health). Sunflower seeds, as well, are a great source of vitamin E. They are also high in magnesium (good for bone health and for regulating nerves) and selenium, which contains cancer-fighting and detoxifying properties. Add vegetables and nori, which is rich in potassium and iron, and you have one delicious, super-healthy meal, appetizer or snack. This sushi is also a great way to get a picky eater to eat nuts, I might add, as they are ground up and seasoned, making them virtually unidentifiable in the dish.

Raw Vegan Sushi:

Yield: 4 rolls

4 sheets sushi nori

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked for 3 hours, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup raw walnuts, soaked for 3 hours, drained and rinsed

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon reduced sodium wheat free tamari or coconut amino

3 scallions, chopped, white part only (use rest for garnish)

3 tablespoons – 1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 large carrot, julienned

1/2 large cucumber, julienned

1 avocado, sliced

1 teaspoon wasabi paste, plus more for serving

Directions:

1. In a blender, combine sunflower seeds, walnuts, sesame oil, tamari, scallions, water and sea salt until fairly smooth, but with some texture remaining (but not large chunks). This process may take some coaxing with a spoon, and you may add more water as needed.

2. Spread about 1/4 of the nut mixture over 3/4 of the sheet of nori, leaving open space at the end of one side of the sheet. Using your fingers, spread about a 1/4 teaspoon of the wasabi paste about 1/4 inch away from the edge of the clean end, making a thin layer which will be used to seal the end of the nori after the sushi has been rolled. Place some julienned vegetables and sliced avocado on the end with the nut mixture, and, tucking the vegetables in with your fingers, tightly roll the sushi (special sushi tools, I’ve found, are handy for this but not necessary), pressing down on the nori as you go. When rolled, press the end of the nori down slightly with finger to seal.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 with remaining nori, nuts and vegetables.

4. Cut sushi into equal-sized pieces using a sharp knife (serrated is best). Serve with additional wasabi, pickled ginger and wheat-free tamari sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

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Salad with Tahini Dressing and Stevia Candied Walnuts

I’m packing up and headed to Michigan for a few days to visit my family, so I’ll make this one quick. It’s fitting, actually, because this hearty salad would make a relatively quick and healthy dinner. It’s also very amendable to variation, though you simply must give these sweet yet guilt-free candied walnuts a shot. The tahini dressing is a creamy, tangy and satisfying addition to salads. I imagine it would also make a great sauce for chicken kabobs. Other possible variations to the salad: chopped avocado, chickpeas, dried cherries or goat cheese.

Tahini Dressing:

1/4 cup tahini

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoons sea salt (or more to taste)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)

1-3 tablespoons water, as needed

Truvia Candied Walnuts:

1 tablespoon vegan buttery spread

1/2 cup walnuts

2 packets truvia (I don’t like to use Truvia anymore; try your favorite stevia and start with one packet then add more as needed)

pinch of salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)

Other Additions:

Bibb lettuce, spinach or romaine

Cooked beets

Cooked Lentils (I cook mine with a pinch of salt and a pinch of allspice)

Directions:

1. To make dressing: blend all ingredients in a blender, minus the water. If dressing is too thick, add water as needed to reach desired consistency. Season with more salt or pepper to taste.

2. To make candied walnuts: In a small saute pan, heat buttery spread over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Add walnuts and toss to coat. Saute for about a minute in the butter. Add truvia and salt — when added to the butter, the coating will begin to brown. Continue to toss walnuts in coating and saute for about 4 minutes, or until walnuts begin to brown. Cool walnuts on a flat sheet of parchment paper until hardened.

3. Assemble salad. Garnish with walnuts and drizzle with dressing.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan Lasagna

Since being diagnosed with food allergies, the one thing I’ve really — I mean really – been missing has been lasagna, which was one of my all-time favorite comfort foods back in the day. This version is not only gluten-free and dairy-free, but also soy free. After coming across a recipe for pine nut ricotta dip in one of my favorite food blogs, Elana’s Pantry, I decided to adapt her dip recipe into a ricotta that could be used in lasagna. The results were out-of-this-world. Now when I’m craving a comforting, decadent one-dish meal, this vegetable lasagna will be my go-to recipe. Serve this meal for friends, but don’t tell them what’s not in it. You’ll fool them every time.

Gluten Free Vegan Lasagna with Pine Nut Ricotta:

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium zucchini, diced

5 button mushrooms, sliced

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

2 plum tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup minced parsley, plus more for sprinkling

1 teaspoon rosemary, minced

1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles (I used Tinkyada brand, which is made with brown rice)*

Pine Nut Ricotta:

1 cup raw pine nuts, soaked for 2 hours and drained

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Prepare sauce: In a large sauce pan or Dutch Oven, saute onions and garlic in one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat for about 8 minutes. Add zucchini and mushrooms, plus another tablespoon of olive oil. Saute for another 8 minutes. Add both canned and fresh tomatoes, parsley and rosemary. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. When finished, drain any excess liquid. Mixture should be quite thick. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare pasta according to package directions (I cooked mine for less time than the box called for).

3. Prepare ricotta by blending pine nuts, water, lemon juice and salt in a blender until smooth. Set aside.

4. Assemble lasagna: in a 9×13″ baking dish, start by layering noodles, side-by-side, lengthwise. Spread approximately 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over noodles. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the top of the ricotta mixture. Repeat 3x, then top with a final layer of noodles.

5. Bake, covered in aluminum foil, for 20 minutes. Serve topped with additional parsley.

*You may need 2 boxes to fully complete the layering process. 1 box will usually be sufficient, but if there are broken pieces, one box might not always be enough. I try to keep an extra box on hand just to be on the safe side.

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Peanutty Stir-Fry Salad

food 031I think one of my favorite flavor combinations in the whole world is peanut butter with soy sauce, sesame oil and chile flakes. Peanut butter is rich and creamy, and seems to perfectly compliment the heat and saltiness of the rest of the ingredients. You sometimes see this combination over noodles, or in some sort of Szechuan stir fry. One of my biggest problems with preparing stir-frys, however, is the fact that my kitchen equipment — and just about everyone else’s in America — is not equipped to make them. The heat needed to make the perfect stir fry requires special burners — something I definitely don’t have on my way outdated oven. For something different, I decided to make a cold salad uses the same ingredients and flavors of a stir-fry.

I just got back to New York after a 10-day trip to visit my family in Michigan. For my last day there, my aunt (another food allergy vitctim) and I decided to prepare a vegan feast. A picture of our spread is below. My aunt’s quinoa stuffed peppers came from Susan O’brien’s Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Cooking, a go-to cookbook for my family. The kale salad is raw and dressed in an almond butter dressing. I will post the recipe soon. While at home, my family and I ate at the Living Zen Cafe in the Detroit Zen Center: http://www.detroitzencenter.org/index.htm. The raw kale salad they serve singlehandedly had me transformed from a kale hater (something I’ve never before admitted) to a kale enthusiast. I have been working on a similar recipe ever since.

food 044This peanutty salad can be served with any number of vegetables or proteins. The sauce would also be great on rice noodles or for dipping. My favorite part is the way the broccoli absorbs all of the wonderful flavors of the sauce. One word of advice is to make sure that the blanched vegetables are very well drained. Maybe the only downfall of the dish when I made it was that some of the water from the vegetables diluted the sauce slightly. It was still tasty, but this sauce is too good to be at all watered down.

Ingredients:

1 package firm or medium firm tofu, pressed with a paper towel to absorb water, then cubed

florets from 1 head broccoli (use the stems for coleslaw)

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1 green pepper, cut into 1″ pieces

Cooking spray or a little vegetable oil

Sauce:

3 tablespoons peanut butter (or almond butter)

2 tablespoons tahini

1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari (Bragg’s liquid amino would also work)

1 tablespoon agave nectar

2 tablespoons minced jalapeno

3 tablespoons yellow onion, minced

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons water

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Lay tofu flat on baking sheet and spray with cooking spray or drizzle with oil. Bake for 45 minutes at 350, tossing once halfway through.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare another bowl filled with ice water to cool vegetables. Salt the boiling water and ice water if desired. Add broccoli, pepper and carrot to boiling water. After 1 minute, remove to ice bath to stop cooking process. Leave in ice water for another minute, then drain vegetables well.

4. Prepare peanut sauce: add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Toss with vegetables and tofu to serve.

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Mexican Style Quinoa Salad

 A while ago, my cousin made a delicious quinoa salad and this is a take on that. It’s a good recipe to play around with, as ingredients can be added and taken away without changing the integrity of the dish. Try adding grilled zucchini or asparagus, roasted red pepper, or diced tofu. I’d also be interested to know how this one tastes with the addition of fresh mint.

This is a really simple and healthy lunch or dinner. It’s also great as a side or served at a party. Thanks, Kelly, for the idea!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa

1 cup canned corn, drained

1 15-oz. can black beans, drained

1 jalapeno, diced

1/2 cup black olives, sliced

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 small red onion, finely diced

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 teaspoon chile powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon coriander

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste

1 avocado sliced

Directions:

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, in a large salad bowl, toss corn, black beans, jalapeno, olives, grape tomatoes, and red onion. In a small bowl, whisk lime juice, cider vinegar, canola oil, chile powder, cayenne pepper, cumin and salt.

3. When quinoa has cooked, add to the salad mixture. Add the dressing and toss. Top with sliced avocado immediately before serving.

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Quinoa Stuffed Poblanos

For a really long time, I was hesitant to prepare stuffed poblanos for the sheer dread of having to go through the process of charring, peeling and seeding each and every one. How tedious! Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered a large can of already prepared poblanos at Whole Foods one day. One problem: they tasted awful. It was immediately clear that the earthy, smoky poblano was just not meant to be canned. How shameful I am to admit I tried to take such an amateurish shortcut! The moral of the story is take the extra 15-20 minutes to prepare the poblanos from scratch. I have also stuffed them without the added steps, but they are much more easily digested and enjoyed after being roasted and peeled.

These stuffed poblanos are tasty, vegan, and packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals. You could prepare them in advance and refrigerate. Bake later for a dinner party that will unite the health-conscious with the taste-conscious. I especially love the interplay between the hot, smoky chipotle and the sweet and surprising pumpkin.

If you’re wondering what to do with the extra canned pumpkin you will have lying around after making this, here are a few ideas: blend with extra firm silken tofu, agave, cinnamon and nutmeg for a tasty pumpkin mousse; freeze in a zipper bag for later use; or, as Woodley would suggest, store it in the refrigerator for a few days and give to your dog with meals. It helps their digestion, and my — albeit very unpicky — dog loves it.

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 poblano peppers

1 cup cooked quinoa

2/3 cup corn kernels (fresh if possible)

2/3 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup Spanish olives, sliced

1/3 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle in adobo, PLUS 1 chipotle pepper, minced (Casa Fiesta brand contains no added sugar)

3/4 teaspoon salt

Mashed avocado with lime juice and salt (optional)

Directions:

1. Rub poblanos in olive oil and broil in baking dish or flat baking sheet for a little over ten minutes, turning occasionally to char all sides evenly. Once poblanos have charred, place in a large dish or bowl and cover with cellophane to steam. Set aside.

2. Set oven to 350.

3. Prepare filling by mixing remaining ingredients, minus the optional avocado mixture. Taste a little and adjust salt to taste. You may also add more adobo sauce or chipotle if you like more spiciness. Keep in mind that the poblanos will add some spice as well. Make sure pumpkin is well combined. Set aside.

4. Remove cellophane and rub poblanos to remove skin. It’s o.k. to leave a little on, but the majority of the skin should be removed. Using a sharp knife, make a slit down the length of the poblano on one side. Using a spoon, gently remove seeds from inside. Generously stuff poblanos with quinoa mixture. Bake for about 10 minutes to heat through. Serve alongside avocado mashed with a little salt and lime juice, if desired.

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Black Bean Soup

Black bean soup is one of my favorite all-time soups, so it’s a good thing this one is so easy to prepare, making it the perfect go-to weeknight dinner. While you could use dry beans and soak them overnight as I have done in the past (not to mention cook them for a few hours after that), I find I’m much less likely to make a soup that requires so much preparation. The first time I made this using canned beans, it took less than 30 minutes to prepare and was just as delicious. Now it’s hard for me to go back to how I was making it before.

For those concerned about BPA in the lining of canned goods, Eden Foods uses all BPA-free cans. I also heard a rumor that Trader Joe’s canned beans (though not all of their canned goods) are BPA-free as well.

You can top this yummy soup with a number of toppings. I’ve had a recent obsession with vegan sour cream, so I used some of that, along with tortilla chips and some avocado. Other possible toppings might include a pico de gallo, diced onions, or even fried plantains (as I’ve done in the past). This soup reheats nicely as well, making it an inexpensive, healthy dinner to last you through the week.

Serves: 8-10

Ingredients:

2 jalapenos, minced

2 medium red bell peppers, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon agave nectar or yacon syrup

1/4 cup  tomato paste

3 cans black beans, drained (not rinsed), plus 3 tablespoons liquid from can

2 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons red wine

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Salt to taste

Toppings:

tortilla chips

vegan sour cream

sliced avocado

Directions:

1. To a large pot or Dutch Oven, add onions, peppers and oil. Saute on medium-high for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic, agave or yacon syrup, cumin and tomato paste. Stir to combine. Add beans and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for about 5.

2. Using an immersion blender (or transfering soup in small increments to a blender jar), blend until smooth. Stir in red wine and cider vinegar. Add salt to taste (I used just a small pinch — but you may need more depending on the saltiness of your tomato paste and vegetable broth). Serve immediately with desired toppings.

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