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Ginger, garlic, and chile are the foundations of this simple soup. I used chipotles that were pre-cooked in adobo sauce, but you could use other peppers if that's easier for your. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

What’s that old saying?  “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

That’s what this week feels like. Here I was with big plans to do the following:

  • A thorough, if late, deep housecleaning to prep for Persian New Year (Nowruz).
  • Batches and batches of cookies baked (and photographed and blogged about!)
  • To send out some of said treats as gifts.
  • A delicious Persian New Year feast over the weekend.
  • Oh, and to teach just shy of 20 classes. . .
  • . . . AND to serve as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding this weekend.

Yeah, right. That sound you hear? That’s the Universe laughing at my plans.  Loudly. I’m laughing now, too, at myself for thinking I could get all of that stuff done, even under the best of circumstances. You see,  I started feeling not so great late last week, and haven’t been quite able to shake the feeling since. So I scaled back on my ambitions, focusing on resting and working and, quite frankly, just getting through the week. (Don’t worry, I don’t teach with a fever and I’m not doing adjustments this week just to be on the ultra-safe side).

I have so much garlic around my place. It's slightly ridiculous, and no, I don't fear vampires ;-) Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

I also threw everything but the kitchen sink (and the doctor) at this annoying bug. You name it: Vitamin C, immune supplements, kombucha, juices, garlic, ginger, spices, cake, sleep, TV, movies, tea, menthol, baths, books, carbs, probiotics, Swedish bitters, and probably at least a half-dozen more things.

It’s been quite stubborn. Very strange, considering I’m rarely sick.

On the positive side, I did make a soup that truly helps me feel better. I breathe deeper and feel less achey when I eat this. It’s super simple to make, otherwise I never would have made it. Ha! It’s not Persian, not even Middle Eastern. It IS good, though, and I’m so grateful for the simple healing powers of ginger, garlic, and chili. When tossed in my slow cooker, they created some kind of magic:

Spicy Soup with Ginger, Garlic, and Chili Pepper

Ingredients

  • 1 chunk of ginger, peeled (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • As many garlic cloves as you want, peeled (I did about 5)
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (can sub other chiles if that’s easier for you)
  • 1/2 medium onion, in chunks
  • 32 ounces chicken or veggie broth
  • 2 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup of baby carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (14-16 ounces)
  • Slivered scallions for garnish (optional)
  • Avocado as a topper (optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin (optional; if you don’t use chipotles in adobo, use some cumin to pick up that smoky flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a blender, combine ginger, garlic, chili, onion, and broth. Blend until smooth.

2. Pour mixture in a slow cooker. Add potatoes and carrots, and cumin, if using. Stir. Cook for 4 hours.

3.  Stir in chickpeas. Taste and adjust seasoning (the broth can be salty, so make sure to taste first before adding salt)

4. Ladle into bowls and serve topped with scallions and/or avocado chunks.

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Harissa sauce, or paste, can range in color from relatively light, like my orangey spread, to a much deeper red.

My homemade harissa is a fast, simple, saucy paste of red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and any number of optional spices. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish, but it tastes fantastic pretty much any way you put it together. It’s a super flexible recipe, so ingredient amounts don’t have to be exact.

So where exactly does this stuff come from? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine,[1] most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria[2] but recently also making inroads in Morocco according to food expert Paula Wolfert.[3]

Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in tubes, jars, and cans.

I have a feeling this versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip, condiment, pasta sauce, soup topper, meat marinade, and more, will make an appearance at my upcoming Upstate New York Yoga retreat. I’m so excited about the retreat. I’m planning all sorts of fun activities, like a meal made on the grill, a farm tour, and lots of great Yoga classes and downtime.

Looking for a more immediate use of harissa? It’s a key part of another my North African-influenced sweet potato stew.

Harissa Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (you decide how big or small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each (or more) of any or all of the following: cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and drain jarred bell peppers.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if needed to get/keep things moving.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Add more of the other spices if you wish. Re-blend. Taste, and serve immediately, or jar it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

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In my world, no holiday is needed to enjoy chocolate, but the holidays sure are a great excuse to do just that. I posted this recipe last year, almost exactly a year ago, in fact. It stands the test of time, and it’s worth sharing with everyone again.

Like many of you, I’ve hardly had time lately to eat a cookie, much less bake them. But my plan is to carve out some time this weekend to make some of these dreamy, delicious, chocolately drops of goodness.  Thankfully, the recipe is simple.  You’ll be impressed at how the flavors of chocolate, cardamom, and sour cherry play off of each other.

Enjoy and have a fabulous weekend!

Note: Adapted from  a recipe in the December 2009 issue of Body + Soul Magazine. Photo to the right by Stacey Young.

Chocolate Drop Cookies with Sour Cherries and Pistachios

Prep time- 15-20 minutes

Cook time- 8 minutes Max

Yield: 5 dozen (or slightly less if you like cookie dough as much as I do)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used pastry flour, and it worked perfectly)
  • 1 scant teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 3 egg whites (save the yolks for another use. Perhaps for a custard or for feeding a pet)
  • Small pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips, melted and cooled (If you are avoiding dairy, check the ingredient list to make sure there are no milk products in the chocolate chips/chunks).
  • Generous 1/3 cup chopped, dried sour cherries
  • Generous 1/3 cup toasted pistachios plus approx. 2-3 Tablespoons more for garnishing tops of cookies
  • Generous 1/3 cup chocolate chips or chunks, NOT melted

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and flour and cardamom powder.

3. With a hand mixer, or a stand-up mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt at medium speed until frothy. (You’ll see bubbles). With the mixer running, slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar. When all of it has been added, raise the speed to high, and beat until the egg whites are the consistency of marshmallows. Now beat in the vanilla.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to medium, and beat in half of the melted, cooled chocolate. Then beat in half of the cocoa-flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl to incorporate all ingredients. Repeat with the rest of the chocolate and cocoa-flour mix. Stop the mixer.

5. By hand, gently fold in the cherries, pistachios, and chocolate chips or chunks. Let sit until thick enough to scoop, about 5 minutes.

6. As dough sets, prepare parchment paper and place on cookies sheets.

7. Now it’s time to scoop the cookie dough onto the cookie sheets. Scoop by the level teaspoonful. Leave about an inch in between cookies. Try to keep the cookies the same size to ensure they cook evenly.

8. Garnish cookies with whole and/or pistachio pieces. Looks so festive and pretty!

9. Bake 6-8 minutes, until cookies are a bit cracked on the outside. (I personally like my cookies on the soft, moist, and chewy side, so 7 minutes was plenty of time for mine in my particular oven. If, like me, you prefer softer cookies, remember, they might look slightly undercooked when first taken out of the oven).

10. Remove from oven and let cool. This is the part where recipes always say to cool the baked goods on a wire rack. Well, I don’t own any wire racks, so mine just cooled on the sheets, and no one’s complaining.

Approximate Nutrition facts from Body + Soul Magazine:

Note, my version is probably a bit more caloric, due to my heavy hand with the cherries, pistachios, and also due to the fact that I added in extra chocolate chips :-) Hey, it’s the holidays! :

Per cookie:

30 Calories

1 gram protein

4 grams carbohydrates

1.5 grams of fat (0.7 saturated)

0 grams of fiber

 

Updated to Add a BONUS: Fun Weekend Contest. Win a $50 shopping spree on one of my favorite sites, iherb.com . Stop by Love Veggies and Yoga, one of my favorite blogs, to find out how.

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Vegan and gluten free granola bars are packed with taste and nutrition.

Sometimes I’m running around town with little time for a proper meal. At these moments, it’s key to have a nutritious, protein-packed, and not-too-sweet snack to keep me rockin’ (and posing, for that matter). Granola bars from the bodega are alright in a pinch, but I’ve become leery of the ingredient list of certain brands. Too many processed unpronounceables! Others bars  are too darn crispy for my taste. You see, I want something with a chewy, almost cookie-like texture, but a better nutritional profile. Not that I’m obsessing over fat grams here (hell no–these bars have plenty of good fat, I’ll admit). It’s just that sometimes I’d rather not spend my afternoon in the throes of a blood sugar crash. Dig? Okay, time to customize.

Today’s granola bars fit the bill. They’re gluten-free, vegan (if you make with something other than honey), and free of peanuts. They’re based on this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis. Of course, me being me, the recipe was only a jumping off point.  Serious tweakage ensued!

How much do you guys tweak recipes? Me, I do it all the time. Certain things I don’t tweak as much, like baked goods. Well, I guess technically these are baked goods, but I’m talking more along the lines of breads, cakes, etc.  Those I generally won’t tweak , at least the first time around ;-)

Portable goodness.

In tweaking this recipe. . .I 86-ed the dairy (butter), replacing it with coconut oil. The egg got cut out; in its place? Ground flax paste. The peanut butter next got the boot; I used almond butter instead. I cut back a bit on the honey and in its place,  added in a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin butter to give the bars a hint of fall flavor. Instead of chocolate chips, I kept the fall motif going with cranberries and raisins. The result? Tasty, filling, not-to-sweet and definitely something you’ll want to portion out. Otherwise, you might eat more than just one bar!

Make a couple of batches of them on a Sunday night, and have them to snack on all week. The texture is somewhere between a chewy cookie and a traditional crunchy granola bar. Cut them into bar shapes, wrap them in foil or plastic, and you’re really to roll.

Vegan Granola Bars with a Hint of Pumpkin

Ingredients

  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 Tablespoon ground flax paste (ground flax seeds mixed with water to form a paste with a texture similar to a beaten egg).
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons honey ( for 100% vegan option, you could use molasses, agave, or maple syrup)
  • 2 Tablespoons pumpkin butter (I used Trader Joe’s brand; love that stuff!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats (If gluten free is a concern, make sure you purchase certified gluten free oats)
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Spray an 8 by 8-inch nonstick baking pan with vegetable cooking spray.

3. To a medium bowl, stir together flax paste, almond butter, brown sugar, pumpkin butter, and honey. Add the melted coconut oil, oats and almonds. Stir to combine, then add the raisins and cranberries

4.Spread mixture into the prepared baking pan, pressing lightly to form an even layer. Bake until the edge of the mixture begins to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 1 hour. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares and serve.

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Mission (black) figs make an excellent jam when cooked with warming spices such as cardamom and cinnamon.

Canning and preserving has always both scared and fascinated me. On the one hand, it seems so practical, nourishing, and creative. It conjures up images of pantries full of summer’s bounty that can be enjoyed on cold, snowy nights.

On the other hand, it strikes me as highly technical and like there’s all sorts of specialized gear involved. I am sooooo not a technical person. I’m the type of person business concepts like Geek Squad are created for!

There’s something so primordial and elemental about fig leaves.

Luckily, jam and preserve-making needn’t be complicated. Rooting around online, I recently discovered that a quick fruit jam can be made on the stovetop, and stored in the fridge for a couple of months. Taste of Beirut featured a wonderful fig jam recently. Inspired, I chose figs as my fruit of choice for my first preserve making experiment. This beautiful fruit brings back wonderful memories of a fig tree we had at one point growing up. More on that in a moment.

I added in some vanilla extract and warm fall spices to give the figs a autumnal fragrance and taste, and am happy to report that the results were quite delicious!

The way the figs just soaked up the spices so well got me thinking about how versatile they are in general. For example, figs get shout-outs from numerous world religions :

  • Figs are the fruit that’s mentioned most in the Bible – They are prolific in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament Jesus uses figs in his parables.
  • Zamakkhschari, an Arabian interpreter of the Koran, reported that Mohammed said, “If I could wish a fruit brought to paradise it would certainly be the fig.”

  • While sitting under a fig tree, Siddhartha Gautama had the revelation that formed the foundations of Buddhism, and for Buddhists, the fig tree is revered as the tree of wisdom.
  • In the Hindu tradition, Siva, the Supreme Being, tempts Brahma with a blossom of the sacred fig-tree, dropped from heaven.
  • The Roman Bacchic cult used figs in their fertility rituals. Most ancient cultures actually believed they were an aphrodisiac.
  • The above factoids are all found at:  http://www.nutrafig.com/cheetahbar/story.html

Concentrating on this blog. Notice the big hair. Like they say down South, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”

Back to that long-ago fig tree in the yard. My mom used to preserve figs off of that tree in the traditional manner every spring and summer. Those preserves were delicious, and one day I plan to get Mom to teach me how how to make them. Then I can store them in jars for cold winter’s nights and give jars of jam away as gifts. A taste of summer will only be a jar away.  For now, I’ll settle for quick preserves. Which, judging by this recipe, isn’t actually settling at all.

Mission Fig Jam with Warm Fall Spices

I used fresh Mission figs because they were what was available. Use the fresh fig type you have ready access to.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh figs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (I mixed white sugar and brown sugar, approximately equal parts of each)
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons pumpkin or apple pie spice powder
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Enough water to cover the fresh figs (start with a cup and work up from there if needed)

Directions

1. Wash figs. Mix sugar, water, vanilla extract, and spices together. Submerge the figs into this mixture, adding more water if more is needed to just barely cover the top of the figs.  Let the figs sit overnight, up to 24 hours. (It might be okay to let them sit longer than 24 hours, but I’d be careful, because the sugar will start to soften the fruit and break it down).

2. When you’re ready to make the jam, place the contents of the bowl, including any unmelted sugar, into a non-reactive Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset). Add in the lemon juice and simmer on low until a froth forms on top.

3.Gently stir and allow to simmer 45 minutes to one hour over a very low flame.

4. Test a fig for doneness. Enjoy some right away, because they’re seriously good warm,  but then let the rest cool and store in an airtight jar in the fridge.

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There wasn't much of this Persian Eggplant Dip left to photograph, but I did my best.

Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest. Here’s a recipe my dad shared with me verbally on a recent visit. It was inspired, in part, by the eggplants then growing in the family garden.

Our conversation went something  like this:

Dad: “You know what you can do with this eggplant? Take a whole eggplant and roast it in  the oven.”

Me: “Do you have to poke holes in it? You know, to let the steam escape?”

Dad: “No, just let it roast really well until it starts to cave in on itself. You might have to turn it over once.

Then cook some onions in a pan on the stove for a few minutes. Then you add in some garlic. . .”

Me: “Do you add any spices to the onions and garlic?”

This is the type of eggplant growing in the family garden, and this is the type I used back in New York to make the Persian Eggplant Dip recipe my dad had shared with me on a visit this summer. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

Dad: “No, just salt and pepper. Anyways, you cook the onions and garlic until they’re soft. Then you can add in a little bit tomato and cook that for a minute.

Then you cut the eggplant, take out everything, and mix it in with the onion and garlic. Cook it until. . .let it get warm.

You can eat this like a dip with some cheese and bread [My dad loves cheese and bread. To the point that they make their own].

Or you can even have this as dinner. You can eat it cold, too. “

Me: “Wow, that sounds really easy and healthy. But like it would be really satisfying too. “

Dad nods in agreement, and I’m thinking, “New blog post. Score!”

So yes, that’s the recipe. I suspect that second to leaning recipes by doing, the verbal passing down of recipes is historically the second most common way recipes are passed down through the generations.

More specs:

Oven roasting temp? 400-425 F worked well for me.

Length of roasting time? For 2 medium eggplants, start with half an hour. Turn them over at 15 minutes.

Goats on the farm. There's only one goat who my dad milks, because she is no longer nursing but still producing milk. That one goat yields about a gallon of milk a day. Udderly ridiculous. They use the milk to make yogurt and goat cheese.

How long to cook the onions? 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic in the last few minutes so that it doesn’t get bitter or burn. Alternately, you can smash is pre-roasted garlic at the last minute if you have some on hand.

Optional Extras? Garnish with fresh herbs of your choice. I mixed in a few dollops of goat cheese in a fromage homage to the goats my fam keeps. They make their own goat cheese from their milk.  I avoid dairy for the most part, but definitely enjoy a few smidges of goat cheese when I visit the fam. It’s sooooo good and fresh!

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Eid Mubarak, everyone! I hope all who are celebrating this holiday have a wonderful, blessed celebration. (More info on Eid-al-fitr here). What better to celebrate our good fortune and health than with a platter of traditional sweets and some steaming hot tea?

I got this big, tempting platter of cookies as an Eid gift. Truly wonderful.

Another angle. Many of these cookies are stuffed with dates. Love that!

Did I make these? No, but I sure did eat more than my share.

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