Roasted and caramelized autumn quinoa

Potlucks can be risky for vegetarians and vegans in mixed groups. You might be tempted to make a dessert or appetizer, either to try a fun new recipe you’ve been eyeing or to save a bit of money over buying the ingredients for a main dish. Then you get there and realize the main dishes ended up all being meaty and you eat a dinner comprised of potato chips and cookies, maybe with a few leaves of salad if you’re lucky.

So last Sunday when I realized I had a potluck to go to in a few hours that I had completely forgotten to plan for, I knew I needed to make something quick but hearty — just in case.

Quinoa salads fit the bill. Quick, high protein, filling, delicious, and infinitely adaptable based on what you put in it.

Since it’s autumn, I wanted something with rich, roasted flavors. Without spending all day on it.

Cue my freezer. Low and slow caramelized onions and roasted garlic bring this quinoa’s flavor to the next level, and luckily I had both stashed in my freezer. If you don’t have these items ready to go, this dish will take a little bit longer to make, but it’s the perfect opportunity to make extra to freeze. (I flash freeze my roasted garlic as individual cloves spread out on a baking sheet, then put them in a labeled freezer bag. I freeze my huge batch of caramelized onions in 1/2 cup portions, then again, put all of the portions in one labeled freezer bag. Seriously though, freeze some caramelized onions.)

Roasted butternut squash and fresh chard and thyme round out the garlic and onion into a hearty, veggie-filled, protein-packed dish that can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. This makes it perfect for potlucks as you don’t have to worry about serving it at a particular temperature. If you’re eating it at home, enjoy it slightly warmed when the air is crisp, and chilled when you just wish it would get crisp already.

roasted and caramelized autumn quinoaRoasted and Caramelized Autumn Quinoa

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

1/2 a medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed *
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/2 cup caramelized onions (from about 1 large onion, use only olive oil for vegan dish)
10-12 cloves roasted garlic
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cup water
2-3 fresh chard leaves, stems removed sliced into ribbons
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves stripped from woody stalks
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss butternut squash cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet (lined with a Silpat if desired to ease cleanup). Bake for 30-40 minutes until pieces are slightly browned and fork-tender. Set aside to cool.

If you do not have roasted garlic ready to go, bake it at the same time as your squash. Cut off the tip of the head of garlic to expose the cloves inside the paper skin. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, then wrap in a square of aluminum foil. Throw it on the pan with the squash and it’ll be good to go at the same time.

Put quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse with plenty of cool water to avoid having a bitter taste to your cooked quinoa. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a medium pot over medium heat. Add rinsed quinoa and toast, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add water, then cover and lower the heat to the lowest possible setting. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then remove the pot from heat without uncovering and let sit 5 minutes more. Remove lid and fluff with a fork.

Let quinoa cool slightly, then stir in caramelized onions. Properly caramelized onions should melt right in and become almost imperceptible. Fold in the chard, which will then be lightly cooked from the steam from the warm quinoa.

Fold in butternut squash, garlic, and thyme. Taste, then add salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. Garnish with thyme sprigs.

* Note: wear gloves when you’re prepping the butternut squash to avoid the difficult-to-remove drying residue on your hands.

Za’atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumi

It’s summer! There are outdoor movies, bike parties, art festivals, birthday parties, anniversary parties, housewarming parties…

Heeey, I’m just over here rationalizing why I haven’t posted in a while.

But summer also has lots of awesome produce. And every summer, whether it’s a fluff piece in the local paper or friends in my Facebook feed, I always see people asking, what the hell can I do with all this zucchini? One that I’ve seen popping up recently is zucchini noodles topped with feta cheese, which is what got me thinking about this salad.

za'atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumiSo, what’s going on here?

Zucchini. You’ll want to use smaller ones if you can, because super huge zukes are not great for eating in salads like this — they get all weird and fluffy. And you’ll need to use a julienne peeler or a spiral slicer to get the “noodle” thing going on. (My mister when we sat down to dinner: “How did you make these vegetables like this?”) I use a crummy julienne peeler that I got for $1.99 in Japantown when I visited San Francisco, and it works fine.

Za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that you could make very easily to your preference. It seems like it’s one of those Italian grandmother tomato sauce situations, where every family has a different recipe. But generally it has some combination of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, basil, thyme, savory, and salt. So you could be a rockstar and make up a little batch of za’atar… or you could be like me and use a jar of pre-packaged stuff that you impulse bought, while your partner pokes fun at you because the brand name is Urban Accents.

Preserved lemons. They are basically pickles made of Meyer lemons and salt. I probably should have made a post about when I made preserved lemons back when I made them last winter… but I didn’t. You can buy them in Middle Eastern markets, or in the ethnic aisles of some well-stocked grocery stores. My homemade ones were spiced with cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and peppercorns. Yum.

Halloumi. This cheese, much like feta, is salty and delicious. It doesn’t melt, so it’s perfect for browning in a skillet to warm it up and give it some crunch.

Za’atar Zucchini Salad with Crusted Halloumi

Serves 2 to 3 as a main, 4 to 6 as a side

3 small or 2 medium zucchinis (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
1 small red onion
2 ounces halloumi
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon, peel and flesh (a little less than 1/8 of one lemon)
1/2 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons of za’atar, divided
2 cups arugula

Using a julienne peeler or a spiral cutter, make zucchini into long, thin, noodley shapes. Put in a large bowl and set aside.

Cut the tip off the red onion, then cut in half through the root and peel outer layers. Slice into thin half moons. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the halloumi cheese into small (about 1/2-inch) squares. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

In a measuring cup, mix olive oil, vinegar, preserved lemon, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the za’atar. Pour a small amount over the halloumi and toss to coat. Do the same with the red onion. Then pour the rest over the zucchini, and add the additional za’atar. Toss to fully coat (I just use my hands).

Let zucchini marinate for 20 minutes.

While it is marinating, heat up a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When one piece sizzles, throw in the red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes until slightly softened and the taste mellows out a little bit. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool slightly.

After zucchini has marinated for 20 minutes, add arugula and cooled red onion and once again toss to combine.

Then go back to your cast iron skillet and turn it to medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles, dump in the halloumi cheese in a single layer. Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes until a brown crust forms, then use a metal spatula to scrape them up and flip to the un-browned sides. Don’t worry about getting every single piece perfect, but try to get some good brown crustiness on as much of the cheese as you can.

Remove from heat and distribute evenly over the top of the salad, then serve immediately.

Fun with coconut bacon: warm and smoky spinach salad

So, coconut bacon. Have you tried it? It’s one of those vegan foods you can buy pre-packaged or make from scratch, and I went the former route mostly because… well, because I saw an IndieGoGo campaign for Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon, thought, “hm, sounds interesting,” and pledged a few bucks. I then promptly forgot about it until three bags of the stuff ended up on my doorstep.

I didn’t really know what to expect. How much could coconut taste like bacon, after all? Well, if you ignore the fact that I am probably the worst person to ask about what bacon tastes like, the answer is that it varies. It’s crispy baked coconut, which works really well as a bacon bit sort of deal as long as it is in a situation that allows it to remain crispy. It also is, you know, coconut, so there is a light coconut flavor lurking behind the intense salty/smoky coating. It strikes me as the kind of thing that would work in certain sandwiches, salads, and definitely breakfast or baked goods.

The mister, on the other hand, used it in a stir fry. And he added it kind of early on. While I don’t remember the specifics, I do remember that it tasted like an overall pretty decent dish except for the inexplicable pockets of soggy smoked coconut pieces. :| When I was cleaning up after dinner that night, I said, “If I save this will you eat it?” He laughed and replied, “I guess that means you won’t?” (We did not save it.)

On the other hand, sprinkled on this salad at the very last minute and enjoyed immediately, the bacon stays crisp. The light coconut flavor that shines through under the smokiness complements the salad rather than competing. It is good, and you should eat it. The end.

warm and smoky spinach salad

Warm and Smoky Spinach Salad
Adapted from Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

5 ounces baby spinach
2 large white button mushrooms
1 large egg, hard cooked
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 small shallots
1/2 cup coconut bacon (I used Phoney Baloney’s)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

First, prep your stuff. Slice your mushrooms very thinly. Slice the hard cooked eggs into slightly thicker medallions. Cut the shallot into thin slices. Then put the spinach in a large bowl, and top evenly with mushrooms and egg. Reserve shallots.

In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Whisk in vinegar, honey, dijon, and smoked paprika. Add shallots and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the salad. Toss to combine, then evenly sprinkle coconut bacon over the top and toss again. Serve immediately.

Spicy pineapple seitan, for the mystery pineapple in your cupboards

Last year for my birthday, I had a hot dog party.

It was awesome.

Basically, we grilled up a bunch of Field Roast Frankfurters for me and the other veg*ns, Hebrew Nationals for the omnis, and provided a mountain of buns.

Then all the guests brought a different topping, potluck style. Toppings ranged from fancy-pants mustard to grilled onions to baked macaroni and cheese to guacamole. There were so many delicious toppings that I cut my hot dogs into pieces so I could do different toppings on each bite, and even then still ate way too many hot dogs.

So like I said, a lot of creative toppings, and surprisingly few repeats. But the one thing that showed up over and over was pineapple. People just brought can upon can of the stuff, crushed and tidbits alike. I’m assuming it was to make Hawaiiany hot dogs. But for some reason, none of the cans were actually opened at the party. And they, of course, all got left behind.

I rarely use canned pineapple, so I kind of forgot about it until recently when I was reorganizing the cupboard. My birthday is in April, so uh, they’d been sitting there for a while. Something needed to be done.

I used my favorite tender seitan, Companion Cha’i-Pow-Yu, which you can usually find at Asian markets. It doesn’t look very appetizing right out of the can, but trust me when I say it cooks up nice — just make sure you drain and rinse it. If you can’t get your hands on it, just use your favorite seitan.

Anyway, if you find some cans of mystery pineapple in your cupboard, this is what you’ve gotta do with it. If you don’t have any, this is worth buying some. Trust me.

spicy pineapple seitan

Spicy Pineapple Seitan
Adapted from Pineapple Marinade by Derrick Riches at About.com

Serves 3 to 4

1/2 cup crushed pineapple with juice
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons honey *
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
1 can Companion Cha’i-Pow-Yu (or 10 ounces of your favorite seitan)
1 small green bell pepper, cut into bite size chunks
1 small onion, cut into wedges
heaping 1/2 cup pineapple pieces (canned is fine)
1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced into rounds (remove some seeds/ribs as desired to dial down the heat)
1 teaspoon unrefined coconut oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix crushed pineapple, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cloves in a freezer bag or storage container and stir until combined.

Drain and rinse Cha’i-Pow-Yu, then add to marinade and stir to coat. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix seitan and marinade with bell pepper, onion, pineapple, and serrano pepper. Set aside.

Grease a small baking pan with the coconut oil, then pour mixture into it. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and take a small amount of liquid from the pan. Stir it into a small bowl with the cornstarch until there are no lumps. Pour the slurry back into the pan, stir to combine, then bake for an additional 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Let cool for a few minutes.

Serve with rice that has been lightly coated with melted coconut oil.

* Vegan substitution: Use an equal amount of agave nectar for a vegan dish.

Fig and onion pizza with quail eggs; adorable but odiferous

As you may know, I love putting eggs on top of things. One of the things I’ve been wanting to try is egg on pizza.

This is totally a thing! The lava-hot pizza comes out of the oven, an egg is cracked in the middle, and it cooks from the residual heat. Then you slice it up and everyone has some delightful drippy egg on their piece. Yum.

Yum, but, you know — drippy.

There has to be a better way, right? And after some pondering, I realized… quail eggs! Their diminutive size ensures that you get it in one bite. You still get the yolk explosion, just in your mouth instead of all over your plate. Not to mention, with them evenly dotted over the top you can ensure that there’s enough egg for everyone to be satisfied.

fig and onion pizza with quail eggs fig and onion pizza with quail eggs

For even more fun, I swapped out a tomato base for another idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while: a pizza sauce made out of caramelized onions.

fig and onion pizza with quail eggs

Not a date night pizza, I guess.

But man, oh man, is it good.

The caramelized onion plays beautifully with the sweetness of fresh crushed thyme and fig jam, one of my favorite combinations. The bitterness of the arugula and the smoky, salty cheese balances it all out.

What I’m saying is, it’s good. Real good. And if you make the caramelized onions and pizza dough ahead of time, it’s quick.

You could even be horrible like me and use store-bought pizza dough. Nobody will complain, I promise.

Fig and Onion Pizza with Quail Eggs

Serves 2-4

1 ball pizza dough (use your favorite recipe or store bought)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 heaping cup caramelized onions *
1 tablespoon fig jam
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
pinch hot smoked paprika
1 cup arugula
3.5 ounces smoked provolone cheese, shredded
2 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
9 quail eggs
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

With a fork, stir caramelized onions and jam together until fully combined. Sprinkle thyme leaves in onions, crushing them between your fingers as you do. Add a pinch of smoked paprika, and stir again to combine. Set aside.

Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your pizza pan.

Preheat oven and your pizza pan according to the recipe for your dough — usually around 450 degrees.

Stretch or roll your dough balls to fit the pieces of parchment paper. I’ve found this pizza dough how-to to be helpful.

Brush olive oil on crust with a pastry brush. Then spread the caramelized onion mixture on top of the oiled dough with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle dough evenly with arugula, then top with both types of cheese.

Pick up the parchment papered pie and slide onto the preheated pan in the oven. Bake according to the directions for your dough recipe, minus 4 minutes.

Remove pizza from oven. Crack eggs evenly over the surface. Pop back into the oven to cook the rest of the way, until crust is golden and the egg whites are solid.

Grind coarsely cracked black pepper over the whole thing, then cut into slices and enjoy immediately.

** If you have a recipe you love for caramelizing onions, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, go ahead and do this. This recipe will make enough for the pizza… but since caramelized onions takes so long, just double/triple/quadruple it, please! My last batch was 9 pounds… (6 pounds lacto-veg, 3 pounds vegan). Freeze them in 1/2 cup portions so you can savor them at a moment’s notice.

Caramelized Onions
1/2 lb yellow onions (about 1 small to medium onion)
1 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch sugar

Thinly slice the onions in half moons. In a medium pot, heat oil and butter over low heat. Add sliced onions and toss to fully coat. Cover and leave for 15 minutes to soften.
Remove lid and raise the heat slightly. Add in salt and sugar, then cook and stir onions frequently for about 30 more minutes — you want them to be paper lunch bag brown, and for the texture to be gelatinous, almost like preserves or marmalade. These can be refrigerated or frozen for later use. If using immediately, set aside to cool. You’ll be left with approximately 1/4 cup of caramelized onions.

French(ish) onion soup with a Japanese-inspired veggie brown broth

Oh, French onion soup. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was a kid, and I remember being devastated when I realized that French onion soup had beef broth in it. It’s kind of obvious, right? I mean, something in there is giving it all that beautiful umami, and so many soups are made with meat broth anyway, especially in restaurants. But to a kid, if something isn’t obviously a hunk of meat, it’s vegetarian, right?

French(ish) onion soup

So I set out to make a brown broth. But despite this being for French onion soup, the broth turned out very… Japanese. I was inspired by classic vegetarian dashi, along with a few little tweaks to get a really deep, beefy flavor.

While the broth adds some good flavor, let’s be clear here — this is an onion soup. Most of the flavor is coming from those lovely little caramelized onions. This may be a cheap meal but it’s not exactly quick. Rushing the onions will not serve you in your quest for deliciousness. If you want to enjoy this as a weeknight dinner, the way to accomplish that is to caramelize the onions and make the broth ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

So with that said: go ahead and double the butter, oil, onions, salt, and sugar in this recipe to make a double batch of onions. When they’re caramelized, remove half to store in the fridge or freezer and continue with your recipe from there. Caramelized onions require a such a slow and active cooking time, so it’s worth it to spend a little more time chopping and have something else to show for your efforts. You can plop them on almost anything (pizza! eggs! sandwiches!), make vegan French onion dip, or even save them to make this soup again, only much faster.

French(ish) Onion Soup
Adapted from French Onion Soup by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4 – 5

Broth:
7.5 cups water
1 1/2 cups dried shiitake mushrooms
2 inch piece of dried kombu
1/2 teaspoon Marmite
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Soup:
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions (about 2 large onions)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter *
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons cognac (optional)
1 teaspoon miso (optional)
soy sauce and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Gratinée:
1-2 cups grated Gruyere * **
1 tablespoon butter, melted *
12 to 16 1-inch thick rounds French bread, toasted until hard

* Vegan substitution: use all olive oil instead of a mixture of butter and olive oil to caramelize the onions. If you want to do a vegan gratinée I would recommend Earth Balance instead of the butter, and a 1:1 combination of Daiya mozzarella shreds and your favorite vegan parmesan.

** If a) you find Gruyere a little too strong, b) you like a more ooey-gooey gratinée, or c) your wallet cries at the thought of that much nice cheese: substitute up to half of the Gruyere with grated mozzarella.

Put rinsed kombu in cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove kombu, and add rinsed mushrooms. Lower heat to remain at a simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms and squeeze out extra broth — reserve these for another use or discard. Dissolve in Marmite (I stick the measuring spoon in there to let the brown gold melt completely off), then stir in soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside — you can refrigerate or freeze it for later use.

Thinly slice the onions in half moons. In a large pot, melt butter and stir in oil over low heat. Add sliced onions and toss to fully coat. Cover and leave for 15 minutes (20 minutes for double batch) to soften.

Remove lid and raise the heat slightly. Add in salt and sugar, then cook and stir onions frequently for 30 to 45 minutes (50 to 60 minutes for a double batch) — you want them to be paper lunch bag brown, and for the texture to be gelatinous, almost like preserves or marmalade. These can also be refrigerated or frozen for later use.

Once the onions are caramelized, sprinkle flour over the surface and stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the “raw flour” smell goes away. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly as you stir so the flour doesn’t burn on there.

Pour in the wine and stir to combine. Then add the broth a cup or so at a time, stirring well between each addition. Taste for seasoning, then add black pepper and to taste. Hold off on adding any more soy sauce if you plan on using miso and/or topping with cheese, as both of those will bring some saltiness to the picture. Bring to a simmer, and simmer for 30 more minutes.

Remove from heat. If using miso, remove about a quarter cup of the broth, and put in a small bowl with miso. Whisk to combine, then pour back into soup. Then, stir in cognac if using. Both of these things are optional, but… they are really good. Give it a taste, and and add more soy sauce if desired.

From here, the soup can be enjoyed as is (and is vegan, if you use all olive oil to caramelize the onions). But if you’re looking to spoil yourself with that rich, restaurant-experience French onion soup, the gratinéed lid is kind of a requirement.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place six oven-safe bowls on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Bring soup back to a boil and ladle evenly into the bowls. Stir 1 tablespoon grated Gruyere into each bowl. Brush a bit of butter on each bread round then place 3-4 on the top of each bowl to cover the surface. Mound grated cheese over the bread.

Bake for 20 minutes. Preheat broiler, then brown tops under the broiler for a minute or two. (Alternatively, use a culinary torch to quickly brown the cheese when you take it out of the oven.) Carefully handling the hot bowls (use potholders!), serve immediately.

The secret to eggy tofu scramble: Indian black salt

Tofu scramble is one of those dishes that every vegan and most vegetarians have in their back pocket. It’s quick, it’s healthy, it’s infinitely adaptable, it’s suitable for any meal, and it’s damn good eatin’.

But nobody who eats eggs would ever actually say an average tofu scramble actually tastes like egg. It’s a delicious way of preparing tofu. But it doesn’t taste like egg.

That’s not a problem, really. It’s tofu, not egg. But some folks hear the word “scramble” and they get… eggspectations.

I’m sorry.

Anyway, this is where Indian black salt comes in. It’s a mineral salt used frequently in Indian cooking which has a high sulfur content, and thus a distinctly eggy flavor. I picked mine up from a Tea and Spice Exchange that I happened into while on vacation, because I hadn’t been able to find it in my local Whole Foods and hadn’t made it to the Punjab grocery to check there yet. But good places to find black salt in general: Indian grocery stores, health food stores, specialty spice stores, and of course, the internet.

Now, I still wouldn’t say this tastes… eggsactly (*ducks*) like scrambled eggs. But for a vegan who’s really missing eggs? Or someone who has ideas about tofu being gross because it’s “always flavorless”? Black salt is a very nice touch.

As I mentioned, the nice thing about tofu scramble is that it’s infinitely adaptable. I used red onion and baby spinach because I had it, but feel free to substitute with anything languishing in your fridge (or even prepare it plain and top with cheddar Daiya for a childhood throwback).

black salt tofu scramble

Black Salt Tofu Scramble

Serves 2-4

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
5 ounces baby spinach
1 small red onion, thinly sliced in half moons
1 14-ounce package firm tofu
1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons Indian black salt
1/2 teaspoon nutritional yeast
heaping 1/8 teaspoon tumeric
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

While preparing the rest of your ingredients, press tofu to remove some excess water. I have this tofu press and I compress the tofu about halfway and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, then add 2 teaspoons olive oil. Warm until oil is shimmery and easily coats pan, then add red onion. Saute until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add baby spinach, toss to coat, and cover. Let wilt for 3-4 minutes, stirring once. Transfer mixture from skillet to a colander and squeeze extra liquid out, then set aside.

Again heat skillet over medium-low and add 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Warm oil, then roughly crumble pressed tofu (I just use my hands) into the skillet. Sprinkle with black salt, nutritional yeast, turmeric, and garlic powder and stir to combine. Start with a teaspoon of black salt — you can add more to taste after you add the veggies.

Continue to heat and stir until tofu is warmed through and broken up to your desired texture. Add reserved veggies and stir to combine. Taste, and if desired, add additional black salt for more saltiness (obviously) as well as more eggy flavor. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Heat again until everything is warmed through and serve immediately.

Starting the year right with stuffing (and acorn squash)

I love stuffing. It is hands down my favorite part of Thanksgiving.

It’s also a food that, until now, I had only eaten on Thanksgiving. The big Christmas day meal is breakfast in my family, and on Christmas Eve my dad does a casual soups and sandwiches get together. No Christmas stuffing.

And for the rest of the fall and winter where packing seasoned, moistened bread and vegetables into my maw would be completely appropriate? It just… never really occurred to me that stuffing could be a regular side dish on a regular day. I don’t know why. It’s not like I associate it only with being shoved into a giant bird and can’t fathom it just being made in a baking dish, obviously. I can’t explain it.

So a few months ago, when the mister harassed me for hoovering down all the Thanksgiving leftovers in a matter of days, I explained it as an innate need to just get all stuffing in my mouth as quickly as possible, since I only had it once a year and loved it so much. He replied that I could just, you know, make stuffing more often instead.

Oh.

So I emailed my grandmother to ask her for her stuffing recipes — her mushroom and onion version and her dad’s apple and raisin one.

“Sure you may have my stuffing recipes, but you know me (I kinda just make them, but I will try my best).”

Grandmothers, am I right?

So the recipe read about how I expected: Saute some mushrooms and onions, you’ll be able to tell how much is right and when they’re done enough. Add a bag of Pepperidge Farms — wait, what?

I don’t necessarily have anything against using stuffing mix, I guess. It can make sense on Thanksgiving when you have a million other dishes to tend to, and I learned from some brief googling that apparently some people get real pissed if you mess with their traditional Thanksgiving stuffing by using bread instead of a mix. But I had stale bread in the fridge. So I didn’t want to go buy stuffing mix, and even moreso, I didn’t want to end up with a quarter bag of stuffing mix jammed in my cupboard somewhere in the event that I didn’t use all of it.

So, I scrapped the whole recipe and decided to “kinda just make it.” And unghhh, I ended up liking mine better.

acorn squash with mushroom, leek and sausage stuffing

Nobody tell my grandmother.

Acorn Squash with Mushroom, Leek and Sausage Stuffing

Serves 4

2 medium acorn squashes
1 tablespoon butter *
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed, quartered lengthwise and diced **
1 Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Vegan Sausage, quartered lengthwise and diced
4 cups 1/2″ cubes of stale bread
2 cups water
1 tablespoon not-poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

* Use Earth Balance or more olive oil for a vegan dish.
** Leeks are a pain in the rear to clean sometimes. What I usually do is slice the dark green tops off, then slice the white/light green in half lengthwise. Hold the leeks under cool running water, using your fingers to spread the layers apart and make sure you get any stubborn grit out of there.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice both acorn squashes in half lengthwise, then scoop out the seeds. Spray the cut surfaces lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, then place face down on a baking sheet. Pop in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Ideally you’ll finish your stuffing around the same time as these are coming out of the oven.

While the squashes are baking, spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until cubes are dry and crunchy. Remove and set aside to cool.

While your bread cubes are drying, melt butter and olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, then stir in leeks and mushrooms to coat. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, then cover and cook, stirring occasionally. Let the veggies shrink up and release their liquid — about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove cover, raise heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has mostly evaporated and the veggies have a bit of caramelization going on. Add vegan sausage and stir to combine, then cook about 2 minutes longer.

In a medium bowl, add bread crumbs then cover with veggie mixture and stir to combine. Stir not-poultry seasoning and ground sage into water. Add liquid slowly, stirring stuffing as you do so. You may not use all of the liquid, depending on how dry your bread is and your personal stuffing preference. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir once more.

Flip your acorn squash halves so the cavities are facing up, and pack each one generously with stuffing. Depending on the size of your squashes, and the size of the cavities in them, you may end up with a little bit of stuffing left over. Just put it into a small buttered baking dish or ramekins, depending on how much there is. Nobody ever complained about extra stuffing.

Put the sheet of squashes back in your oven, along with the leftover stuffing, and bake for 30-40 minutes. The flesh of the squash flesh should be pierced easily with a fork, and the stuffing should be brown and crispy on top.

Mexican(ish) kale salad in Newport, Rhode Island

A couple of weeks ago, my mister and I went to Newport, RI for a wedding. We hadn’t really taken a vacation this year, and it fell the weekend before Veteran’s Day (which he gets off and I don’t, grumble grumble), so we decided to make a long weekend of it.

The wedding was truly lovely; I hate most weddings so this is saying something. With the rest of our time in Newport, we learned about some mansions (I’m sorry, “summer cottages”), did some shopping, watched an embarrassing amount of HGTV in the hotel room (what, we don’t have cable at home!), and of course: ate.

I always do my food research before we travel. Walking around all day and then potentially not being able to find a restaurant where I can eat anything besides a salad: nightmare. I always have a few places that I’ve checked the menu on saved on a Google map. Does anyone else make an extensive Google map of restaurants, museums, and shops they want to visit whenever they are planning a trip? Mine is always filled with used book stores and weirdo museums.

…Anyway, in my research, I discovered it was restaurant week in Newport. Score! The glee was short lived as I remembered: prix fixe menus are the bane of the vegetarian.

But I searched and searched and finally found the one restaurant in Newport that had a vegetarian prix fixe option. Perro Salado was serving a Tuscan kale and white bean salad and a pumpkin and mushroom chile relleno. The desserts where a spiced apple flan and a molten chocolate cake. And? Margarita included.

Sold.

While the place didn’t really strike me as the Mexican restaurant it was billing itself as, the food was phenomenal. “We should leave a few bites of the desserts so we don’t look like pigs,” said my mister. “No.”

But you know what was the star of the show, really?

Mexican(ish) kale salad

Mexican(ish) Kale Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 to 6 as a side or appetizer

1 bunch dinosaur kale (also known as lacinato kale)
2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, mashed with salt
1 cup cooked white beans (just over half of a 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed; I used great northern)
1/4 heaping teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 ounces cotija cheese, finely crumbled

Wash kale, then tear into bite sized pieces, removing tough stems. Dry well, then put in a large bowl. Drizzle with lime juice, one tablespoon of olive oil, and salt. Get in there with your hands and massage it all up until the kale starts to soften slightly and shrink in size. Let it sit while you prepare everything else.

Mash up your clove of garlic. Mince it finely, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and work it in with a fork until you’re left with a paste.

Finely crumble your cotija (I always just use my hands) and set aside.

Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil over low heat and add the crushed red pepper. Heat until oil is fragrant and spicy and delicious smelling. Add your beans. You’re not really cooking them — you don’t want them to fall apart — you’re just gently heating them. Keep over low heat until warmed, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic paste and heat for one minute more.

Scrape the warm beans into your kale, making sure to get all those lovely garlic and pepper bits in there. Toss to combine, then portion onto plates. Sprinkle each plate generously with cotija.

Serve immediately, with a wedge of lime to squeeze on more juice as desired.

More Beyond Meat experiments: autumnal chicken-free salad

So, remember Beyond Meat? Well, I found out that Roots Market is selling it in five pound food service bags. So you can guess what I picked up last week.

They sell the big bags frozen, which answers a question you may have had — yes, it freezes fine, so there’s no need to worry if you want to stock up. It’s still at a pretty high price point — I paid about $40 for the five pounds. But once they roll out nationwide I hope to see the price drop quite a bit.

With so much Beyond Meat at my disposal, I decided to tackle something I wasn’t all too optimistic about: chicken salad. I was worried that without cooking it into something, the Beyond Meat wouldn’t be up to snuff.

It’s not like I have a super refined chicken salad palate. I mean, I ate a ton of chicken salad as a kid. Just not good chicken salad. Canned chicken breast (blech) mixed with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. That’s it. My dad stocked up on the canned chicken from Costco, so we had pyramids of it in the pantry. Mayonnaise lasts forever in the fridge. It was quick, easy, and we always had the ingredients.

Yeah.

Anyway, I promise this is way better than just fatty-salty. It’s got a lot going on; it’s creamy-salty-sweet-herby-tangy-crunchy. It’s an autumnal, Thanksgiving-y blend, with veggies and cranberries and pumpkin seeds all rounded out with a hearty dose of fresh sage and thyme. I even used Greek yogurt in place of some of the mayonnaise for a little bit of sass. And… the Beyond Meat holds up perfectly. I think it tastes delicious, but it’s been a while since I’ve had chicken. My omnivorous mister says: “It is a pretty good ringer for boneless, skinless chicken breast. It is nowhere close to a juicy roast.”

I’m cool with that.

autumnal chicken-free salad(Since this post was originally published, I have edited the recipe to reflect the slightly changed retail formulation of Beyond Meat after the national rollout.)

Autumnal Chicken-Free Salad
Adapted from Cranberry-Walnut Chicken Salad by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6

1 3/4 pound Beyond Meat Lightly Seasoned Chicken-Free Strips, shredded
1-2 celery ribs, finely diced
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup hulled, roasted pepitas
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt *
1/2 cup mayonnaise
 *
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stripped off the woody stalk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Add Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, then place in a medium bowl filled with cold water and ice. (Alternatively, let cool and then chill in the fridge if you are doing this ahead of time. You can also safely use the strips “raw”, but the texture is much better and they are easier to shred if you cook them.)

Once cool, shred the Beyond Meat strips with two forks (or your hands, I won’t judge).

Chop up your celery and shallots. The size of the dice is up to personal preference, but I like to go pretty fine for two reasons: the shallot benefits from having the flavor dispersed pretty evenly, and my mister is not a huge fan of raw celery so I have to chop it finely so it’s not too stringy.

So, toss your chopped veggies on top of the Chicken-Free Strips. While you’re at it, add the dried cranberries and pepitas.

Mix mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, vinegar, herbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. When you add the thyme, crush the leaves slightly with your fingers to get the oils going. Stir everything together until dressing is combined.

Pour dressing over the other stuff and toss until everything is fully coated. Give it a taste and salt and pepper to taste. I like to serve over a big bed of baby spinach, but it’s obviously equally at home in a sandwich, wrap, on crackers. Do what you do.

* Vegan substitutions: Instead of mayonnaise, use an equal amount of Veganaise or your choice of vegan mayonnaise. Instead of Greek yogurt, try So Delicious Dairy-Free Greek Yogurt. If you can’t find that locally, you can try straining your favorite plain soy yogurt to thicken it — start with double the amount of yogurt — or simply use more vegan mayo.