Monday, March 28, 2011

Creamy Asapargus and Fennel Soup

My leeks sprouted up from the dirt yesterday.  As a first-time gardener, I have to say that it was quite the event.  And by event, I mean, it was basically me alone in the yard acting like a crazy person: jumping up and down, clapping, squealing, shouting about leeks.  I'm sorry if I am your neighbor.

I'm getting better, promise.  I only squealed half as much when I saw the spinach sprouts emerging from the ground today.  By the time the chard starts popping up, maybe I can tone it down to just jumping. Silently.  We'll see.

I guess this means that spring is here.  More rain.  A little sun.  A (hopefully) healthy veggie garden.  And a whole lotta asparagus.  Asparagus always looks so dainty and beautiful.  And you can't beat fresh, tender asparagus when it's in season. 

Even cats can't resist.  

Speaking of cats, I helped my cat kill a fly yesterday.  No, really.  I lifted him onto the windowsill so he could see the bug he was hunting unsuccessfully from the floor.  It was really cute and funny at the time.  But today I kinda feel bad.  It's that whole vegan guilt thing, ya know?

I suppose there's only one remedy for guilt which, of course, would be Creamy Asparagus and Fennel Soup (I promise no creatures were harmed in the making).  This is a light, delicious soup perfect for spring that can be served warm or cold.  It's free of wheat, gluten, soy, eggs, and dairy so it's a great crowd pleaser if you're trying to accommodate guests or family members with allergies.  Or if you just want a really amazing dinner for yourself.  The cat will just have to find dinner elsewhere.

Creamy Asparagus and Fennel Soup
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped (about 1.5 cups chopped)
2 leeks, ends removed and chopped
1 bunch of asparagus (about 3 cups chopped)
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon dried chives
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup rice milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Bend each piece of asparagus near the tough dried end until it snaps off at its natural breaking point. Discard ends, wash remaining asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, saute garlic, fennel, and leeks in olive oil until soft (about 3 minutes). Add asparagus, herbs, broth, and rice milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until asparagus and is soft (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Puree soup using a blender. Add water if a thinner soup is desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with dried dill and serve.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pad Thai

The first time that I tried Thai food was in my freshman year of college in the dorm cafeteria.  That was the same year that I started eating tofu, wearing crocs, and dyeing my hair pink.  The pink hair didn't last long, but luckily my taste for tofu and Pad Thai have stuck around. 

The nice part of living in Seattle is that you can find pretty amazing Thai food everywhere you turn.  It's especially convenient for us vegetarian and vegan folks because you know that you'll be able find something delicious while still hanging out with your non-vegetarian buddies.

And, if you happen to be in the University District around lunchtime, you have to stop in to Araya's for their lunch buffet.  A buffet with spring rolls?  Just try and stop me.

The only downfall of a lot of Thai dishes is that they can be a little too greasy.  This is often the case with Pad Thai. The good news here is that Pad Thai isn't inherently unhealthy; it tends to be the extra oil, fried eggs, and sugar in the sauce that make it that way.  I went on a long search for a tasty and healthy Pad Thai recipe and came up short so I made my own version.

This sauce has a light flavor so the taste of lime juice and fresh sprouts really shine through in this dish.  (If you're interested in making your own mung bean sprouts, you can check out my tutorial here.)  I also added some grated carrots to lighten up the noodles a bit.  You can definitely play around with the ingredients and flavors as you like, just don't forget the chopped peanuts on top.  Yum.

And if you happen to be looking for something to do around Seattle this weekend, check out VegFest at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on March 26th and 27th.  It's sponsored by Vegetarians of Washington, an awesome nonprofit organization who provides education about eating vegetarian and healthy living.  It costs $8 to attend, but there's over 500 samples to try, cooking demonstrations, and great information about new products.  You can also sign up to be a member of Vegetarians of Washington and get a free subscription to Vegetarian Times and a bag of goodies.  Hope to see you there!

Pad Thai
Serves 2

Pad Thai Sauce:
Juice from 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate mixed with 3 tablespoons of water

4 ounces of tofu (1/2 of a package), cut into small squares
2 handfuls of rice stick noodles (use about 1/3 of a 12 oz package)
1 tablespoon oil (I used a mix of peanut and hot chili oil, but you can use any cooking oil)
2 shallots, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions
1 carrot, grated

1 cup mung bean sprouts
2 tablespoons of cilantro
1/4 cup chopped peanuts for garnish
1 lime, sliced into 4 wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tofu on a lightly-sprayed baking sheet and bake for about 20 - 30 minutes, until tofu is light golden brown.  Set aside.

Cook rice stick noodles according to package directions.  Usually you will cook them about 6 - 8 minutes until they are soft (but not mushy), then drain.  Set aside.

Mix the ingredients for your sauce together and set aside. 

Add the oil to a medium pan over medium heat.  Add your shallots, garlic, and green onions.  Saute for 2 minutes.  Stir in the noodles and toss for about 1 minute, then add the sauce.  Add the tofu, carrot, and bean sprouts and cook for 5 more minutes.  Split the pad thai between two plates and then top with cilantro and peanuts and add two lime wedges to the side.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mung Bean Sprouts

I've been spending a lot of time out of the kitchen lately.  This is new territory for me.  

Life here has been all about planning my garden for spring and attending gardening classes at Seattle Tilth.  This weekend I planted my first seeds of swiss chard and spinach.  I've always used plant starts before so it's going to be really fun to see what comes out of the ground later this week. 

There's something about planting a seed in the ground that makes me feel so connected to this earth.  With all of the recent events in Japan and around the world, it's hard not to have a constant reminder about how small our planet is and how interconnected we all are. 

When I was in graduate school we talked a lot about what it means to be a global citizen.  My thoughts on this have shifted even more lately.  Even though I am aware that our planet is a system, it still somehow shocked me to watch the quake in Japan turn into the destruction of Sendai and then unfold into waves that traveled over the Pacific. 
Sprouts: Day 2

It's easy to stand by and feel helpless in those moments.  It's also easy to want to turn a blind eye and look away.  I haven't been able to shake the feeling lately that I'm not doing enough to help my community.  This feeling inspired me look more critically at my life and think about how I can lead a more sustainable lifestyle:  less consumption, less waste, and more DIY projects.  I may not be able to save the world, but I can definitely do my part to take better care of this earth and the people on it.

That's where mung bean sprouts come in.  I love using sprouts in my cooking.  Alfalfa are my favorite for sandwiches and salads, but mung beans hold a special place in my stir-fries and phad thai.  Since I have phad thai on the menu for later this week I figured it was time to get sprouting.

Growing your own sprouts saves money and is easy.  Anyone can do it.  Sprouts are super healthy and are packed with vitamins, iron, and protein.  It's fun to watch them grow over several days and making them at home is entertaining for the entire family - cat included.

DIY Mung Bean Sprouts

1/2 cup organic dried mung beans
Large glass wide-mouthed jar
Cheesecloth (or another light cloth) to cover the jar
Rubber band
Water for rinsing

You'll want to start by choosing some organic, dried mung beans and rinsing them very well before soaking.  Remember that the sprouts will at least double in size so you only want as many as you can eat in a few days.  I used a half cup of beans and found this to be more than enough. Remove any stones or other debris that might be mixed in with the beans.  Also remove any broken or discolored beans.  

Put the beans in your glass jar and cover them with water.  Put the cloth over the top and secure with your rubber band.  Soak them overnight or for at least 8 - 12 hours.  In the morning, rinse and drain them well.  There should not be any water left sitting in the bottom of the jar.  If water sits and collects, this is where mold will develop and your sprouts will go bad.

Leave the jar in a cool, semi-lit place while the beans sprout.  I left mine in a corner of the kitchen.  (Note that the jar was only put by the window for lighting purposes in the pictures.)  

Rinse and drain the beans well about every 8 hours.  As long as you are diligent about rising them and not leaving water in the jar you should not encounter problems with slime or mold.  

After two days, the tails will be about 1/4-inch long. You can continue growing them for up to four days for larger sprouts.  When the sprouts have reached your desired length, give them a final rinse and then transfer to the refrigerator.  

I stored mine in a long shallow glass snapware container with some paper towels.  They usually last about 5 days.  

Sprouts - Day 4

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Easy Overnight Oats

I was recently told that I look like the girl from the TV show Northern Exposure.  I know that I live in the Pacific Northwest and all, but this is not exactly the best compliment.  It must be time for a haircut.  And time to stop wearing hiking boots to work.

I've also recently been told that I look like the girl from the Verizon poster in the downtown Seattle bus tunnel.  That's slighty more flattering, thanks. 

A few years ago when I had much longer hair, I was often compared to Kelly Clarkson and, my personal favorite look-alike, Catherine Zeta Jones.  I guess since I don't hear that comparison anymore it can only mean one thing:  forget the haircut, it's time for a make-over.  

My breakfast also needed a makeover recently.  And since I apparently need to spend much more time on my appearance, my new breakfast had to be quick as well as healthy and delicious.  I used to always go straight for my morning green smoothie, but overnight oats are a nice option too and just as quick.

Have you ever heard of overnight oats?  You take regular rolled oats and instead of cooking them, you soak them in milk overnight and serve them cold.  Genius!  I love this version with chia seeds added in.

If you've never heard of chia seeds before, you're probably wondering what they heck they are and why you would want to eat them.  Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and are high in antioxidant properties.  They look like small greyish seeds that form a thick gel when soaked in liquid.  This "chia gel" is very filling and hydrating and I've heard it's used by athletes after races. 

The trick with the chia seeds is to make sure they are well-soaked.  When I was first experimenting with them, I tried a chia pudding recipe that called for soaking them ten minutes before eating.  This is definitely not long enough.  When you eat chia seeds they shouldn't have any crunch to them at all, but should simply taste like a soft gel.  I know that sounds so delicious that you must be rushing to your kitchen to make this.

 Alright, if you're not already convinced then know that it's really the toppings that give this dish the extra oomph.  Try topping it with some warm berries (my personal favorite), your favorite nut butter, fresh fruit, dried fruit, chopped up walnuts, and/or a drizzle of some pure maple syrup.  You can add whatever other toppings you like, just don't forget to put your oats in the fridge the night before.

Easy Overnight Oats
From Oh She Glows
Serves 1

2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/3 cup regular rolled oats
3/4 cup milk (rice, soy, and almond all work great)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Mix together ingredients in a bowl.  I like to add my chia seeds first and make sure they are well mixed in with the milk before adding the oats.  Since the chia seeds are light, they can sometimes float to the top (and do not absorb the liquid) so I usually check them about 10 minutes later and stir them again if necessary.  Put the bowl in the fridge to sit overnight.  Wake up in the morning, top with your favorite toppings and serve cold. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Green Bean and Potato Salad with Miso Dressing

I had one goal for myself in 2011:  to go the entire year without any new injuries or physical ailments.  I figured that after last year my injury karma had to get better, right?  My 2010 was consumed by a gall stone diagnosis, shin splints from a running injury in 2008, a sprained ankle, and then a shoulder injury in August that I'm still healing from.  I thought things were looking up.

Then a couple of weeks ago I went to spinning class and strapped my shoe too tight on the bike.  I didin't even know that you could do that, but apparently if you do it bruises your foot pretty bad.  It also doesn't help when you continue to work out on it.  Duh.  Injury #1.

And then four days ago I started having a splitting headache on one side of my head.  Physical issue #2.  The not-so-fun part of this one is that my doctors still have no clue what's going on.

This caused me to take a long, good look at my life recently and figure it out myself.  It's not a pretty picture:  creating too many commitments for myself, getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night, staring at the computer for very long periods of time without taking a break, starting to drink caffeinated tea again, and choosing to ignore my body when it's trying to tell me something.  My self-care report card is definitely a D right now.  No wonder I have a weird headache that my doctor's never heard of. 

What I love about life is that the lessons that we need to learn always arise right in front of us.  I needed a good reminder about taking care of my body and sometimes it takes a swift kick in the behind (or a splitting headache) to make one pay attention.  I'm listening now.

Maybe you're working on taking care of your own body or you're just looking for a tasty meal option.  This salad is it.  This recipe came from  The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change The Way You Eat by Tal Ronnen.  I love this cookbook because it has beautiful photographs, loads of great information, and very inspiring recipes. (Including how to make your own vegan cheese.  Amazing!)

At first I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy the miso-potato-green bean combination, but I was definitely impressed.  I'm also not usually a big fan of arugula and I actually thought about substituting spinach instead, but the slight bitterness of the arugula really complements the flavors well.  This is a perfect side salad with dinner and it makes a wonderful light lunch on a rainy spring afternoon.   In the spirit of self-care and listening to my body, I didn't even think twice about having seconds. 

Yields: 4 servings (enough for about 2 people)
From The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change The Way You Eat by Tal Ronnen

2 tablespoons yellow miso paste
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 1/2 cups baby arugula
8 ounces fingerling potatoes, boiled for 15 minutes, then sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
8 ounces of green beans, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute

Place the miso paste, vinegar, agave, salt, pepper, shalot, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water in a food processor and pulse to combine.  With the motor running, slowly add the oil in a thin stream until the vinaigrette is emulsified.  Fold in the chives.

Place the arugula, potatoes, and beans in a large bowl, drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss to coat.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spicy Tempeh Burritos with Cabbage and Fennel Slaw

There is nothing I dread more than shopping for jeans.  No, really.

I don't mind shopping for other things, but I definitely have a jeans-specific phobia.  Come on, no one wants to spend hours in a tiny dressing room with fluorescent lighting to try on pair after pair of uncomfortable pants. As if that's not pleasant enough, there are mirrors in every direction forcing you to see yourself in every angle possible.  No thank you.

I made a goal for myself to buy some new jeans before the week is over.  I'm not quite sure that it's going to happen.  Especially since I keep distracting myself by making tempeh burritos instead.

It's taken me a couple of years to like tempeh, but now I love it. If you're new to fermented products like tempeh this is a great recipe because the seasoning masks the fermented flavor.  You can combine the seasoned tempeh with your favorite burrito fillings or use the cabbage and fennel slaw.  I personally like the tangy and spicy combination of the two.  Whether you're looking to avoid an unpleasant task or just hungry, this one's for you.

Spicy Tempeh Burritos with Cabbage and Fennel Slaw
Serves 4-6.

Cabbage and Fennel Slaw:
1 fennel bulb
1/2 head of red cabbage
1 Tbs seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar

Finely shred the cabbage and fennel.  Toss with the rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar.  For best results, let it sit overnight, mixing at least once to make sure the fennel and cabbage are well-coated.

Two 8 oz packages of tempeh, roughly chopped
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs olive oil
1 package of whole-wheat or flour tortillas (you can use corn tortillas if you're gluten-free)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tomatoes, chopped
cilantro for garnish

2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Add the oil to a pan over medium heat.  Add your tempeh and soy sauce.  Saute for about 5 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the tempeh is starting to brown.  Remove from heat and toss with your seasoning mix.

You can warm the tortillas first or use them cold.  Divide the tempeh evenly amongst the burritos.  Add your the cabbage and fennel slaw (if using), the tomatoes, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.  Roll and serve.