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.

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.

Vegan French onion dip for a Super Bowl snack

So, I don’t give a shit about football, or the Super Bowl.

But I sure do like snacks!

Oh yeah, I guess my city is also going crazy because of this particular Super Bowl. Caw caw, and so on.

But mostly, I’m in this just for the snacks.

But what snacks to make? I considered jalapeno popper dip, but decided I should try something new. Then I got to thinking about how I told y’all to make a double batch of caramelized onions earlier this week. And I figured since one of the hosts of the party I am going to is a vegan, it might be nice for him to be able to eat something besides what he’s making.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

vegan French onion dip

This is a great dish for mixed crowds: people who might normally grumble about a veganized version of a classic snack-food will be so blown away by the real caramelized onions instead of sad freeze-dried bits from a packet. Using tofu instead of sour cream and mayo does give a bit of a lighter taste to it. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing; when navigating a Super Bowl sea of deep fried everything, pacing yourself is key. Not for dieting, mind you, but to ensure you can sufficiently sample all the snacks.

If you already have the caramelized onions ready, this dip zizzes up in a hot minute. If you don’t, I once again must recommend that you make a double batch of the onions. It only takes a little bit longer, and you never know when you might need some.

Vegan French Onion Dip
Adapted from Tofu Sour Cream by Vegan Epicurean

Makes about 4 1/2 cups

Onions:
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions (about 2 large onions)
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Dip:
2 12.3-ounce packages of Mori-Nu firm silken tofu
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon miso
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Marmite
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
salt, to taste

First off, caramelize the onions. Thinly slice the onions in half moons. In a large pot, heat 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 be refrigerated or frozen for later use. If using immediately, set aside to cool. You’ll be left with approximately 3/4 cup of caramelized onions.

Put tofu, canola oil, vinegar, lemon juice, dijon, miso, Marmite, and pepper in a food processor and blend until very smooth. Add caramelized onions and pulse 5-6 times — don’t overdo it!

Scoop into a bowl or storage container, give it a quick stir to combine, and cover tightly. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. It will firm up a little bit in the fridge.

Before serving, give it a taste and stir in more salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve with chips, bread, crackers, and/or slices of apples and pears.

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.