Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Green lasagne + roasted cauliflower ricotta

This is a Beethoven string quartet of a food post.  It starts out slow, it starts out rather colorless and dull and not very promising, gathers speed and momentum and brio, and ends with an explosion of colour and flavour.  I've even got a coda at the end :)

I'm featuring another little innovation from Appetite for Reduction that I just discovered today - roasted cauliflower ricotta.  Basically, it's roasted cauliflower and crumbled firm tofu mixed with a few other things and pulverized in a food processor (or by hand), and it's quite amazingly good, a ricotta-type product that actually has a taste, and if you like roasted cauliflower, this recipe is for you.

Isa uses it in her Lasagne with roasted cauliflower ricotta and spinach, and what I did today was inspired by that recipe, but since I can't ever do exactly what I'm told, I put my own spin on it.  The ricotta, however, is all hers. 

First, my sauce was green, a summer sauce from the freezer that was probably made with tomatillos.  At any rate, it was superb, so thanks, self of the past, for making and preserving it.  A layer of sauce:


A layer of cooked noodles (my whole recipe contains three lasagne noodles and is, incidentally, about one quarter of the entire recipe from the book, about a serving and a half):


Some of that ricotta:


Wow, are these pictures painfully dull or what?  Isa layers on a small amount of fresh raw spinach, but since I love greens, love 'em, and have a lot of them on hand, I quick-cooked some broccoli rabe, added lots of spinach right at the end, cooled it, and squeezed out some of the moisture.  Under it in the next layer is a sub-layer of red onions and chopped mushrooms:


So--


Do all that again, and finish up with a layer of noodles, the last of the ricotta, and a fresh tomato/kalamata olive topping:


Cook that at 350F for about 40 minutes:


It smells heavenly.  I served it with mashed carrots, steamed Brussels sprouts, and sweet winter daikon and red radishes:


Hooray, we have achieved the rainbow! And it was delicious to boot.  It's been ages...like years...since I had lasagne.  It's easy to make, but there was a certain (large) amount of cleanup required at the end.

Notice the mashed carrots?  I asked the Moon Goddess to pick me up some carrots at Costco the other day, since I was out, and she brought me back ten pounds.  Ten pounds of carrots is a lot of carrots.  Luckily, I'm quite fond of them.  I made supper for her and Diane the other night, and served these and they were a big hit--based on a recipe out of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  It's just steamed carrots, three big ones in this case, a heaping teaspoon of frozen concentrated orange juice, a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, and salt and pepper, mashed.  That meal, however, got me into mashes in a big way.  Jamie Oliver has some nice ones in his Meals in Minutes, but none of them is as stupendous as this:


Kabocha squash, green beans, broccoli, peas, oh my!  It was served like this:


I was kind of following a recipe of Jamie Oliver's for this meal, but misread the recipe (my fault, not his) and ended up botching the tofu part, so I won't reveal which one.  It tasted pretty good anyway, and the mash made up for it.

I've been away from this blog for a little while, still cooking but also planning my garden (such a big job I've moved it over to its own blog so as not to bore the non-gardeners among my readers), and trying to figure out how to use my new smartphone.  Those things are amazingly addictive.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

20-Minute Tuesday - a step beyond mere scrambled tofu

...or, more stuff you can do with the Vegan Brunch omelet mix.  I know I go on and on about that omelet mix, so if you're not ready for more, just skip this post.  But if you do read it, there's a bonus at the end of this post for your patience.

I know it's Sunday, but I've got a very busy week ahead of me at work, and probably will have no time for posting.  And I probably really will have something like this next Tuesday.

Remember how back in the day I made tofu donburi?  Well, maybe you don't, but it's a Japanese dish of fried tofu with eggs cooked in broth.  That egg-on-tofu idea has stuck with me ever since.  The omelet mix has proved so useful that most weeks I add it to my rotation of "things I make every week" which also includes tofu yogurt and sometimes cashew yogurt as well (which is better in cooked dishes), cooked whole-grains-and-rice for my lunches, and salad dressings.  So when you come home late from work, it's right there, and you don't just have to make omelets with it.  Here are two takes on scrambled "eggs" that are super-easy, and super-fast.  Both start out with a little fried onion and a fresh tomato.

For the first variation, add the omelet mix, and chunks of fresh, uncooked tofu (I like softer types for this, but of course you can suit your own preference):


Cover, and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring infrequently so the omelet mix chunks stay soft and cloud-like, and remain in large curds:


Season it up any way you like it--just salt and pepper is fine, though--and serve with a veggie side dish or two or a salad that you can put together while the tofu cooks.  Here you see green beans and peas cooked with spinach, and a side of mashed carrots and squash:


For the second variation, you need a bit of cooked pasta, and you add that instead of tofu to the omelet mix:


Not too much; it's an egg dish, not a pasta dish.  You can eat it just like this if you like:


...or fancy it up even more by adding vegan soft cheese and/or vegan parmesan (in this case frozen homemade cashew cheese, plus some almonzano (recipes/links are on the sidebar to the right):


Cook that in a little bit, and it's ready:


The side here is a delicious mixture of cooked french lentils, chopped broccoli, spinach, and carrots--and some fruit chili (basically a peach/pear/apple chutney that my mom and my aunt made) for a garnish.  That took a little longer, but I made extra of the lentils, so next time I'll just be able to toss them into something.

Heaven bless Isa and her omelet mix!

And if you've made it down this far, here's a bonus mystery picture:


This one really surprised me.  It's a pretty common kitchen staple, though not one I've posted about recently.  Good luck!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Odd-and-end pie

It took forever to decide what to have for supper.  The Moon Goddess and I had been shopping in the morning, and at Superstore they had just got in a big shipment of fresh produce which they were in the process of putting out.  Superstore produce, as all Canadians who shop there know, is like the little girl with the little curl...when it's good it's very very good...and it was a really good Superstore day.  Gorgeous shiny purple eggplants, enormous bags of superfresh spinach...it was all...so...irresistible...

So when I got home, of course I had a problem.  I already had a big eggplant that had been in the fridge for a few days, and I was using up the last of another bag of spinach.  What to do?  I pored through books, wrote menus, considered the existing containers of this and that already in the fridge, and finally opted to make something up to use it all in one go.

This is a take on the Eggplant-potato moussaka with pine nut cream from Veganomicon.  Much as I admire the Veganomicon, that particular recipe is problematic--you get too much pine nut cream, not enough vegetables, this, that, so I thought I'd just start building and see what worked.

The original recipe calls for brushing eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes with oil and broiling them separately before layering them into a casserole.  However, I somehow have a problem with this process, don't ask me why; you'll rarely see here a dish where I have to broil slices of anything.  Well, okay, I'll tell you why.  You cut the slices too thick and they don't cook through; cut them too thin, and they shrivel to burnt shreds of nothing.  Run up to check your e-mail and forget about them for a minute or two, and your house fills with smoke, or worse.  Besides, with broiled eggplant slices, especially from the big eggplants, no matter how fresh they are the skin turns out tough and horrible and you end up gagging on strings of skin or pulling them indelicately out of the finished dish on your plate...not that they're even especially delicious, 'cause they're not.  For taste and texture, you're better off broiling the eggplant whole.  But then it turns all soft and gloriously mushy and you can't slice it. 

Enter the revolutionary technique of steaming.  It takes just a fraction of the time of broiling; the slices look good even after they're steamed, and are buttery soft and cooked perfectly through, even the skins.  Yes, it's true.  And there's no smell, no smoke, no crusty burnt pans to deal with afterwards.  So, I steamed them--one whole eggplant, enough small potatoes to cover the bottom of the steamer, and a big bunch of spinach.  I elected not to use zucchini this time. 

While that was happening, I prepared some Indian-spiced tomato sauce by pureeing some leftover Indian tomato-onion condiment-type thing with some leftover canned tomatoes--the little leaves you see below are curry leaves which the immersion blender didn't pick up.  No matter.  I lined my 9" x 9" pan with parchment paper just to see what would happen (don't bother) and spread a little of the sauce at the bottom:


Add a layer of sliced steamed potatoes:


...a layer of tender steamed eggplant:


...a layer of leftover Vegan Brunch omelet mix with a little chaat masala sprinkled on top to compliment the tomato sauce:


...spinach:


...one more layer each of tomato sauce, eggplant and potatoes, and top with half a recipe of pine nut cream:


Cook at 350F for about 45 minutes, until golden:


Let it cool to room temperature before slicing:


Stu-pendous!  It's good cold, too.  And the best part is, you could switch out pretty much all of the ingredients depending on what you had in the fridge--how about sweet potatoes, zucchini, and kale with a thin layer of mango chutney or some other spicy sauce in there; or mushrooms, slices of marinated tofu, mashed potatoes, and chopped broccoli?

One question: have any of you ever tried making this kind of pine nut cream with cashews or almonds?  I'm tempted to try it.  The recipe as is is great, for texture, but I find that for pine nuts I really have to be in the mood...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The wonderful world of fresh chutney

I have been cooking lately, a lot, even for me, all Indian food all the time, which I hope my neighbors in my building appreciate as much as I do.  To be honest, I've probably tested their patience enough, though as of yet no one has slipped a note under my door telling me so...Indian spices are coming out of my pores when I exercise so they're most likely making their way down the common hallway as well.

But I can't stop.  These are not 30-minute meals; they're 3-hour experimental extravaganzas, difficult to blog because everything is so very new and fun that there's nothing in particular I can get a proper focus on.

Also, I've had trouble, which sounds sort of peculiar, arranging the food properly on a plate.  Normally, as you know, I let everything duke it out in a bowl, but that doesn't cut it with Indian meals because not all the items are friends with all the others, and the way you eat these meals is complex in itself, arranging little tasty mouthfuls of this and that, or this, that, and the other thing, spooning a bit of saucy curry over rice, dipping up some raita with a piece of flatbread, following a bite of something fiery hot with a cooling chaser.  In the end, I've settled on a sort of thali arrangement, like you might get in an Indian restaurant, with the different foods separated in bowls on a large round plate.  There are actual thali plates, big round metal plates with shallow indentations to keep the various foods separate, but I don't have one.  I do, however, have a lot of little bowls.


So yesterday it snowed all day, our first real snowstorm of this extraordinarily mild winter, and since I couldn't get out without making some kind of extraordinary effort, and since I'd just been to Chinatown on Friday with my friend Fi, where I found big fresh bundles of methi leaves and curry leaves and some gorgeous little bowls...okay, I found three large grocery bags of stuff but then I don't get to Chinatown all that often...anyway, I decided to make an afternoon of it and experiment with a few chutneys.

My guide on this journey has been Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes.  This is a perfect book for Western cooks with intermediate Indian cooking skills, like me.  Apart from being big and heavy and of many pages, with recipes that are easy to follow and always work out, lots of definitions and explanations of basic techniques, and being very kind about giving the English as well as the Indian names for things (split pigeon peas and toor dal; fenugreek leaves and methi), it's an omni cookbook, but vegan friendly: all the vegan recipes are marked with a big "V" and you've got to love a cookbook where the meat recipes are consigned to a section called "Non-Vegetarian Fare."

In my family, we grew up making rhubarb chutney, green tomato chutney, fruit chili--boiled, jam-like concoctions, very sweet, that will keep in a sealed jar for ages.  But in Indian cooking, there are two main types of chutney--that "jammy" kind, called preserved chutney, and fresh chutney, which won't keep longer than a few days in the fridge and is more like a salsa.  This post is about the fresh kind, of which I made:

1.  Basic green chutney (Hari chutney)

I don't want to infringe on Ms. Batra's copyright, but here's Manjula's version.  Get together your green onions, cilantro, mint (frozen in this case), lime juice, green chilis, and sugar and process to a paste:


Add salt and pepper to taste.  You're done.  Easy peasy:


2.  Roasted dal and fresh green chile pepper chutney (Bhel-puri ki chutni)

Bhel-puri is a kind of Indian snack made with potatoes and puffed rice, and is served with many kinds of chutneys, including this one.  You can check out the recipe if you like on Google Books.  It's like the basic green chutney, but with split chickpeas (channa dal) added.  Start by roasting your washed dal:

Pan is lined with the remainder of a spice mix; I though it couldn't hurt...
While it's roasting, gather together your fresh ingredients and grind them up into a paste:


Once the dal is roasted:


...let it cool, then powderize it up in a spice grinder (I use the Magic Bullet):


Mix the dal with the green paste, add salt to taste:


Delicious!

3.  Roasted coconut chutney (Bhunae nariyal ki chutni)

Here's a version from Mamta's Kitchen.  A really pretty start: 


Lightly roast all this stuff together, until it turns into this:

Pretty, isn't it!
...while you bake your dessicated coconut in the oven on low heat until it's golden.  The smell from this is simply amazing:


Grind up the coconut.  Mine turned into a sort of delicious roast-coconut butter.  Not sure if that's right, but it's what happened and the results were yummy, so I won't complain:


This chutney is a little more complex.  You finish it off with a tarka of oil, mustard seeds, dried hot peppers...


...curry leaves and asafoetida:


Add the ground spice mix to the ground coconut along with some tamarind paste and the tarka:


...to get the finished chutney:


This looks a little dull, perhaps, but it is packed with flavour, and I ate way too much of it just as is.

4.  One more, a dal-based chutney this time, which is meant to be stirred into yogurt, Yogurt chutney with roasted dals and spices (Dahi aur bhuni dal ki chutni).  Start with some dry split chickpeas, urad beans, and mung beans (channa dal, urad dal, and moong dal):


Dry roast them:


The rest is all tarka.  Start with black mustard seeds and dried chilis:


Add curry leaves, dried coconut, chopped ginger and fresh chili, and asafoetida:

I should have used a bigger pan

Roast it some more:


Now separately grind up the dals in a spice grinder, add cilantro to the spice mix, and grind that all up too, and mix everything together:



 So...now that you've got all these chutneys, how to use them?

First, you can make big batches and freeze them in little portions, in an ice cube tray, for instance, so you don't have to go through all this trouble more often than occasionally.  I made little batches because I was experimenting.

The chutneys can all be served plain as a condiment, perhaps with a bit of water added to make them softer.

They can be mixed up with yogurt, or yogurt and cold vegetables like cucumber and/or tomato, to make another kind of chutney, or a raita, or with warm vegetables to make a side dish.

Spread them into a sandwich.

Use them as a dip or salad dressing.

Mix them up with cooked rice for flavoring.

Pour them (with or without yogurt) over cooked vegetables.

Have them with yogurt and bread as a quick little meal or snack.

Use them for adding a burst of flavour to soups and stews.

Don't forget to label them!

Here's something I made up, though I'm sure it's not original.  I mixed some fresh sesame-peanut chutney with a little water and two tablespoons of chickpea flour to make a paste:


...then stuffed some little Indian eggplants with it:


...and fried them on low heat, covered, until the eggplants were tender and the chickpea flour was cooked through:


So good!

So...it's still snowing.  I wonder what I'll get up to today?  I did pick up some amaranth leaves in Chinatown...