(Almost) the best soup recipe I’ve ever stolen

I’ve been fighting off the last lingering bits of a cold for a week or so now. Being all stuffed up and having my taste buds operating at only 30% capacity has gotten old, fast. So last night, I decided that I wanted a hot, spicy, gingery soup to help clear my head.

Through my Day-Quil haze, I remembered that Urban Vegan had made a West African-inspired soup the other day that she claimed was the best ever. It seemed like a perfect coincidence.

Let me tell you, this soup is good. Really, really good. I don’t know if I can say it’s the best I’ve ever made, but I can tell you that I plan on stealing this recipe and making it over and over again until Spring finally arrives.

I’ll have to work this equation into my Grand Unified Theory of Vegan Soup™:

Sweet potato + poblanos + peanut butter + lots of ginger = deliciousness

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Mahogany Broiled Seitan

With Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri

Mahogany Broiled Seitan with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri

Mahogany Broiled Seitan with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri

This recipe is adapted from Camilla Saulsbury’s winning entry in the National Chicken Cooking Contest a few years ago. The mahogany sauce is a sticky, caramelized, sweet, and tangy delight, playing perfectly with the smoky, slightly spicy sweet potatoes and the bright cilantro chimichurri. (The main difference, other than substituting seitan for the chicken, is that you can skip the marinating step. In fact, I’ve discovered that marinating seitan in anything containing lime juice makes it a little too tough and chewy.)

Growing up, I was never a big fan of chicken – maybe because we ate it several times a week. So I probably would never have even given this recipe a second look if not for the fact that Camilla was my wife’s favorite kickboxing instructor. That’s right: her resume includes a PhD in Sociology from Indiana University, numerous TV and magazine credits, a great blog, award-winning recipes, cookbooks galore, and fitness instructor certifications. (Wow, I got tired just from writing that.)

This is a terrific meal for a quiet night at home, but it also easily adapts into a terrific party dish. After you’ve made this the first time, you’ll realize that it’s a lot easier than it appears on paper. The genius of this recipe – as with many of Camilla’s recipes – is the way she combines common pantry ingredients into something that tastes extravagant and delicious. .

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb of seitan (preferably homemade!)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tsp lime juice, divided into 2tsp and 2tsp
  • 3 sweet potatoes, cut into half-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp Earth Balance
  • 1 chopped chipotle pepper
  • 1 Tbsp adobo sauce (from canned chipotle)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chile powder (preferably ground chiles)
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mahogany Broiled Seitan

  1. Cut seitan into 1-inch cubes.
  2. Combine brown sugar, mustard, hoisin sauce, 2 tsp lime juice, and balsamic vinegar in a bowl, and stir well.
  3. Turn on your oven broiler to high, and set your shelf about 6 inches from the heat source.
  4. Transfer the seitan to skewers, making sure the cubes are evenly spaced.
  5. Brush the skewered seitan bits with the mahogany sauce. Place the skewers on a baking sheet lined with foil, and put the sheet under the broiler.
  6. Cook about 5 minutes, then rotate the skewers and baste with more of the mahogany sauce. Put back in the oven for another 2-3 minutes, or until well-browned, then remove.

Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes

  1. Place cubed sweet potatoes in large saucepan or stockpot, and cover with water.
  2. Turn heat to high until water boils, then adjust heat so that it boils continuously.
  3. Cook about 15-20 minutes, until sweet potatoes are soft.
  4. Reserve 1/4 cup or so of the cooking liquid, then drain the potatoes.
  5. Add potatoes to a large bowl and mash. If you need to, add the cooking liquid to get the consistency right.
  6. Add Earth Balance, chipotle, adobo, cumin, chile powder, and 2 tsp lime juice. Stir well, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Cilantro Chimichurri

  1. In small bowl, mix garlic, cilantro, and olive oil.
  2. Add a pinch of salt and a little pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Putting it all together

Create a bed of mashed sweet potatoes. Top with skewers of broiled seitan, then drizzle on the chimichurri.

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Cashew Tofu

I was really in the mood for some American-style Chinese carryout food the other day. Unfortunately — or maybe I should say fortunately — there’s no place nearby that does passable, vegan-friendly Chinese. (Thai? We’ve got that covered. Chinese? Not so much.)

Cashew Tofu

Cashew Tofu with cabbage leaves

So I decided to try and make Cashew Tofu — a vegan variation on the classic, ubiquitous cashew chicken. The stir-fry ingredients are simple: protein plus cashews, celery, carrots, and onions. But the sauce for cashew chicken is usually chicken broth mixed with oyster sauce. For my first attempt, I decided to make a quick, simple stock and combine it with a mushroom-based oyster sauce. (Some commercially-available oyster sauces are already oyster-free and built instead on shiitakes, so it’s not like this was an original idea on my part.)

The vegan “oyster” sauce was comprised of mushroom stems, tamari, sichuan peppercorns, sugar, and a sprinkle of dulse flakes. I added a bunch of water, brought it just to a boil, and reduced it by half. After straining it, I gave it a taste – it was nearly perfect, but just a bit too heavy. So I left the stock — about a quart of water with a handful of mushrooms, a sheet of kombu, and a splash of rice vinegar — very light.

I then mixed some of the “oyster” sauce into the stock and whisked in some corn starch to thicken it, then poured it over the stir-fry while it finished cooking.

For a first attempt, I was very pleased with the results. But the final sauce was just too dark and tangy. I’m going to tweak the sauce and stock just a bit, and then I think I’ll have the perfect dish to satisfy those carryout cravings.

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Tempeh Tacos

I’ve tried lots of different meatless taco fillings over the years – store-bought dehydrated mixes, TVP chuks, veggie chorizo substitutes, and more. But none of them were as satisfying as this simple preparation of tempeh. In addition to tacos, this works great on nachos, in quesadillas, and on Mexican pizzas.

One of my friends was always very intimidated by tempeh, but I finally won her over with this recipe. These traditional cakes of pressed, fermented whole soybeans do have a very unique texture and can have a strong, nutty flavor. But both of these attributes can work to your advantage, and this dish takes full advantage of them.

You can probably find several varieties of tempeh in your local stores: the basic all-soy kind, and ones with added vegetables, flax seeds, or rice. My favorite, though is the milder, three-grain tempeh that adds brown rice, millet, and barley to the whole soybeans. (If you’ve got a Trader Joe’s near you, their 3 Grain Tempeh is delicious and cheap!)

Tempeh Tacos picture

Tempeh Taco spread with corn tortillas, onions, guacamole, and vegan nacho sauce

Basically, the procedure is this: brown the tempeh with spices in a little bit of oil, then deglaze the pan to pick up all the delicious, smokey flavors and rehydrate the tempeh a bit. It’s hard to really accomplish this with a nonstick skillet – but if that’s what you’re working with, just use a little less oil and water below.

Ingredients

  • 1 8-oz package of tempeh
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil, like corn or grapeseed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chile powder (preferably just ground chiles)
  • pinch of dried oregano (especially if you have Mexican oregano!)
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/4 cup water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Procedure

  1. Cut the tempeh into small cubes, about 1/4-inch on each side.
  2. Put a large skillet over medium heat, and add the oil.
  3. When the oil is hot, add the tempeh and sprinkle a pinch of salt.
  4. Let the tempeh cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, or until it starts to brown on one side.
  5. Sprinkle the cumin, chile powder, and oregano, and stir well.
  6. As the tempeh starts to brown all over, use the back of a wooden spoon or spatula to smash the tempeh.
  7. Continue stirring and smashing the tempeh until it is well-browned and bits are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan.
  8. Carefully pour in the water and stir it around, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  9. Turn off the heat.
  10. Stir in the lime juice, then taste and adjust the salt level.
  11. Eat!

Variations

  • Add 1/2 cup finely-diced onion after step 4 above for a juicier, thicker filling
  • Add onion, tomato paste, and a bit more water for a sloppy-joe filling
  • Stir in a cup of Vegan Nacho Sauce and diced tomatoes for a filling Queso Dip for chips.

My Favorite Tacos

  • Soft corn tortillas, gently heated about 15-20 seconds each on a cast iron skillet
  • Seasoned tempeh taco filling from above
  • Finely-diced red onion
  • Guacamole
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Vegan Nacho Sauce
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Menu for the Week: June 3, 2012

Here’s what I’m making at home this week:

Monday

Seitan Philly Steaks w/ Roasted Potatoes

Tuesday

Tempeh & Kale in peanut sauce, over brown jasmine rice

Wednesday

Friends are coming over for a weeknight dinner! Time to make a big pan of Veggie Lasagna with simple green salad, garlic crostini, and tapenade.

Thursday

Dal with parathas

Friday

Tofu Spanakopita with Chickpea Fries

Saturday

Out of town – friends are getting married!

Sunday

Breakfast for dinner: tempeh bacon, hash browns, & tofu-veggie scramble

Vegan Nacho Sauce

Vegan Nacho plate picture

Vegan Nacho plate with vegan nacho sauce and browned tempeh

There’s nothing better than a giant platter of nachos – an explosion of contrasting colors and salty, spicy flavors. And, of course, textures ranging from extra-crunchy to crisp & fresh to smooth & creamy. And this has got it all.

The key to it all is a nutritional-yeast-based nacho sauce.

What the heck is nutritional yeast? It’s a kind of deactivated yeast that’s cultivated, harvested, and dried in a specially-designed process. In vegan cooking, it’s an almost magical substance that adds protein, tons of B vitamins, and – most importantly – umami. It’s delicious on popcorn, and can add a slight cheesiness to just about any dish.

Cooking with nutritional yeast can be a bit tricky at first, since it’s easy to use too much and overpower other flavors – and also because the quantity you need can vary depending on the size of the flakes. So find a source and stick with it until you get the hang of it.

I’ve changed this recipe many times over the years, but it was originally based on a recipe on the old Red Star website. (Red Star being the primary producer of nutritional yeast, at least in the US.)

I like to use this sauce over tortilla chips topped with seasoned tempeh, refried beans, sliced jalepenos, and pico de gallo. (And maybe even a little guacamole.)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground mustard powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (or toasted & ground cumin seeds)
  • 1 tsp chile powder (ideally, ground toasted chiles)
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • A pinch of dried oregano (especially if you have Mexican oregano!)
  • 3 tbsp neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn (you can also use Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup water [Edit: fixed typo in amount]
  • salt and pepper

Process

  1. Heat the oil (or margarine) in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Combine all other ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well-incorporated.
  3. Stir mixture into warmed oil. Stir continuously for at least 1 minute, or until fat is incorporated and you get a smooth texture.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer until the mixture thickens, stirring often. If it gets too thick, add water a tablespoon or so at a time.
  5. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve immediately.

Variations

  • Instead of the chile powder, use a diced chipotle and a spoonful of adobo sauce.
  • Add diced mild chile peppers for a Chile con Queso dip.
  • Add vegan sour cream (either store-bought or homemade) to make a delicious, tangy sauce for burritos.
  • For beer “cheese”: Skip the lime, oregano, chile, and cumin. Add a couple cloves of finely minced garlic, and substitute beer for the water.
  • For a cheese-whiz like topping for Vegan Philly Steaks: skip the chile, use only ½ tsp cumin. And add extra black pepper!
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Basic Homemade Seitan

Seitan is one of those foods I found mysterious when my wife introduced me to vegan cuisine. But seitan has become one of my favorite proteins to cook with, because of its wonderful, chewy texture and the way it magically absorbs all kinds of flavors.

First, let’s define what we’re talking about here: it’s wheat gluten. That’s all. It’s common to many varieties of Asian cuisines, but it seems to be especially linked to Buddhist monks in China, Japan, and Vietnam. “Miàn jīn” or “mein chin” was around long before the macrobiotic movement “discovered” it and renamed it “seitan”. You may have seen it on the menu in Chinese restuarants under the name “mock duck” or “mock pork”. You may have seen it in the store as “wheat meat” or “seitan”.

Traditionally, seitan is made by washing the starch away from whole wheat flour, leaving just the gluten behind. You can skip this time-consuming step by using Vital Wheat Gluten flour, which is typically about 75% protein. (VWG is also a great addition to whole-wheat breads, helping them rise and fluff up a bit.)

As with most of my recipes, mine errs on the side of simplicity. While it may seem counterintuitive to add whole wheat flour back into the gluten, I’ve found that it imparts a better texture and gives more consistent results.

Basically, the process is this: add just enough moisture to the gluten to create a thick dough, then simmer it in liquid.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Vital Wheat Gluten Flour
  • 2 tbsp Whole Wheat Flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce (tamari or shoyu are fine)
  • dash of liquid smoke

Process

  1. Add VWG and whole wheat flour to the work bowl of a food processor.
  2. With the food processor running, pour in the water. Let it run about 30 seconds, until a well-defined dough ball is formed.
  3. Remove the dough from food processor. With wet hands, knead the dough into a smooth ball.
  4. Let the dough rest in a bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap if you’re going to let it sit for more than 15 minutes or so.
  5. In a large stockpot, add enough water to cover the seitan by about 2 inches. Stir in the soy sauce and liquid smoke.
  6. Put the stockpot over medium-high heat. Gently slip the seitan into the broth, then cover the pot and bring just to a boil.
  7. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 30-40 minutes. The seitan will triple in size to a giant, spongy mass, and then start to collapse back in on itself a bit. Once it starts to contract, turn off the heat.
  8. Let the seitan remain in the broth until it starts to cool. This is key to getting that chewy texture.
  9. Use the seitan to cook right away, or store it in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.

Variations

I usually double the recipe above. Since I use seitan in lots of different dishes, I want it to be fairly neutral in terms of flavor. But if you know you’re using the seitan for something specific, then get creative with the simmering broth!

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Mushrooms and garlic
  • Sesame oil, 5 spice powder, and Shaoxing wine
  • Full-bodied red wine (like a Cabernet) and thyme
  • Cumin, onions, and dried chiles
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