Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mushroom Barley Soup and Beet Salad

The heat in my apartment has not been working for the past few days, and I have been freezing! The heat came back on the day before yesterday, but I was still feeling the chill, so I made a big pot of mushroom barley soup. I had never made this soup before, but nothing says warmth to me like a rich, deep, mushroomy soup with barley and root vegetables in it.

The recipe was based on Mark Bittman's mushroom and barley stew from the wonderful, amazing cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian - my all-time favorite cookbook! My version includes celery, potatoes, carrots, garlic, local turnips, reconstituted dried porcinis (incredibly flavorful), baby portabellos, pearled barley, thyme, vegetable stock, and fresh parsley. It was hearty and satisfying. I will definitely make this soup again this winter.

Aaron and I enjoyed this soup with a salad of local lettuce, local roasted beets, sliced mushrooms, and an improvised dressing made with some leftover vegan cheese sauce from the vegan mac and cheese I made the night before, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and lime juice.

I really enjoy meals like this. I love root vegetables, and I know that beets, turnips, and potatoes are seen as sort of humble and unsexy, but with a little love and attention, they can shine. Their flavors pair perfectly with the earthy richness of mushrooms, and nothing beats the combination of a warm stew with a cool, crunchy fall salad. Yum.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Reviews Day: Harrison Street Coffee Shop

Richmond, Virginia has a number of excellent restaurants where vegetarians can eat happily, and it even has a few that are totally vegetarian. One of those restaurants is Harrison Street Coffee Shop, at 402 North Harrison Street near VCU.

Harrison Street has been serving up tasty vegetarian food for years now. They specialize in sandwiches, and have a selection of salads and homemade dressings to go along with them. They also feature a special of the day (usually a sandwich, but not always), a side of the day, and a soup of the day, all featured on their chalkboard menu. As the name implies, they also have wonderful coffee and tea. Vegan desserts abound as well - things like vegan peanut butter cups and avocado fudge. Mornings, they serve breakfast, and weekends, they do brunch.

For me, it's all about the sandwiches, though. Such sandwiches! It's incredible the amount of flavor a vegan sandwich from Harrison Street has! The barbecue tofu sandwich has tofu that is toothsome and delicious (not soft, like tofu sometimes can be) and spicy, with vegan coleslaw soaking into the bread. The tempeh artichoke  sandwich has a delicious lemon-tahini dressing on it. They have creative sandwiches like the "full throttle chipotle zeppelin" which has smoky, spicy tempeh, avocado, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, and their spicy chipotle sauce. The food is always fresh and the atmosphere is very cozy and laid back. People stay for hours drinking coffee, reading a book, typing away on their computer, or talking.

When I visited last week, I tried two specials of the day - a vegan fried "fish" sandwich and a side of the the vegan mac and cheese. The sandwich and the mac and cheese came out hot and fresh. The fried "fish" was actually crispy, bread-crumb-crusted tempeh. The texture was great. The roll was toasted and spread with a tartar-type sauce. The veggies were fresh and flavorful. The mac and cheese was very convincing as vegan mac and cheese goes. I think it probably had nutritional yeast in it, giving it a cheesy flavor. Aaron took a picture of my meal with his iPhone. I would have many more photos of meals eaten at Harrison Street Coffee Shop, but each time I eat there, I wind up devouring half the meal before I even think to snap a photo. You'll notice that only half the sandwich is visible in this shot. That's because I am eating the other half.

I absolutely love Harrison Street Coffee Shop. The food is consistently good, and vegans are spoiled for choices there. The specials and weekend brunch keep things interesting. The prices are also reasonable. The fried fish sandwich with the mac and cheese was around $7.00.

You can read more reviews for Harrison Street Coffee Shop on Yelp or Happy Cow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pasta with Arugula-Pecan Pesto

I was excited to see that there was a large bundle of peppery, leafy arugula in my CSA share this week, and I immediately knew what I wanted to do with it - make pesto and pour it over pasta! There was also a beautiful little head of broccoli, so that went in the dish, too.

Pesto doesn't just have to be made with basil and pine nuts. Now that summer is over, other herbs and green vegetables are showing up in my CSA shares - parsley and arugula are two that make excellent pesto sauces when combined with walnuts or pecans. This arugula was exceptionally delicious, as it was grown locally - it has a wonderful peppery bite and bright green color.

This was originally going to be arugula and walnut pesto, but I had accidentally purchased a bag of pecans instead - luckily, the pesto came out absolutely amazing using pecans instead of my intended walnuts. It was a very happy accident indeed. I did throw in the four or five walnuts I had hanging around, for good measure. Lightly toasting the nuts brings out their warm, mellow flavors and is far superior to using raw nuts of any kind.

Recipe for Whole Wheat Pasta with Arugula-Pecan Pesto and Broccoli (Makes 4 Servings):

What You Need:
  • 1 bunch fresh arugula
  • 3/4 cup toasted pecans (walnuts work great, too)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 bunch fresh broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 12 oz. whole wheat pasta (I used spaghetti)
  • 1 cup pasta water, reserved just before draining the pasta
  • salt and pepper, to taste
How to Make It:
  1. Begin cooking the pasta according to the package directions. Remember, before you drain it, you'll want to reserve a cup of the pasta water to add to the pesto - there's good flavor in it! 
  2. Meanwhile, put the arugula, garlic, toasted nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor.
  3. During the last minute or so of the pasta cooking, add the broccoli and cook until the broccoli is bright green and tender. Use a mug or measuring cup to scoop out about 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and set aside to keep warm.
  4. Add half of the reserved pasta water (about 1/2 cup) to the blender or food processor. Attach the lid and blend, carefully and slowly at first, until the mixture is smooth. If it seems too thick, add more of the pasta water. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  5. Stir the pesto together with the cooked pasta and broccoli. Serve warm. Enjoy!

This meal only takes about 20-25 minutes to prepare and is very simple to make. But it still somehow manages to be rather elegant and impressive. Paired with a simply dressed salad and some toasted bread, this would be a lovely meal to serve guests - even omnivore guests, because (I swear!) they won't miss the parmesan cheese that is usually included with pesto. Aaron took a bite and thanked me for putting plenty of cheese in his portion, when in actuality I hadn't used any cheese or dairy at all. If arugula seems too frou-frou, or expensive, or difficult to find, or if you prefer a "quieter," more mellow pesto, you could easily use flat-leaf Italian parsley instead. Parsley-walnut pesto is equally delicious, just with a somewhat different personality. Either way, I hope you'll give an alternative pesto a try next time you bring out the blender!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Easy-Peasy Vegan Split Pea Soup

Split pea soup is easy to make, satisfying, and ridiculously inexpensive. And it certainly doesn't have to contain ham or bacon. This vegan version is made with dried green split peas, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, and vegetable stock, and is flavored with bay leaf, fresh thyme and parsley.

All of the ingredients in this soup are inexpensive. I estimate that the total cost of ingredients I used in this soup was around $7.25, which made four servings for my very hungry fiance and me. That means that this meal cost about $1.81 per serving! I used organic vegetable broth from a carton to make this soup, but you could easily save a few dollars by using homemade vegetable stock.

Easy-Peasy Vegan Split Pea Soup (makes 4 meal-sized servings):

What You Need:
  • 1 1/2 cups dried split peas, rinsed, pebbles and whatnot removed
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 carrots, cut into chunks
  • 1 russet potato, cut into chunks
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (give or take, depending on how thick you like your soup)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • big handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
How to Make It:
  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium. When the oil is hot, add the diced onion and celery and cook until the onion is translucent, 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots, potato, peas, vegetable broth, bay leaves, and the leaves from the sprigs of thyme. Stir. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender and falling apart and the vegetables are soft - about one hour. If the soup seems to thick, add more broth or a little water. Season with salt and pepper to taste as the soup cooks.
  3. When the soup is cooked, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the fresh parsley and lemon juice, if you are using it. Remove the bay leaves from the soup before serving. Enjoy!

The ingredients in this soup cost less than $2.00 per serving, but they bring a lot to the table (so to speak) from a nutrition standpoint. Split peas are about $1.00 per pound, and just one cup of cooked split peas offers an impressive 65% of the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber. Each bowl of soup contains about one whole carrot, which provides 157% of the vitamin A you need for the day. And although parsley is usually thought of only as a garnish or a flavoring, it contains significant amounts of vitamins A and C, and just one tablespoon of this leafy herb offers 77% of the RDA for vitamin K.

This healthy, delicious, affordable soup will likely remain in my repertoire through the fall and winter. Next time, I might try adding some of that tasty Field Roast smoked vegan sausage!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vegan Sausage, Roasted Root Vegetables, and Sauteed Kale

This is my very favorite sort of meal. It's very simple, and the basic components are: a protein, starchy, garlicky oven-roasted vegetables, and leafy greens with vinegar. On this occasion, we ate Field Roast smoked apple and sage vegan sausages, roasted sweet potatoes, red potatoes, carrots, and local radishes with garlic, and local kale sauteed with onion and red wine vinegar. The combination of different colors, flavors, and textures are what makes this meal so special and appealing to me.

Aaron and I decided that although the vegan sausages were delicious (read my review of Field Roast sausages here), the real highlight of the meal was the roasted root vegetables. They are sweet, warm from the oven, and very rustic and comforting. I use this simple but extremely effective cooking method to cook root vegetables of all types, in all different combinations. Oh, and roasting radishes might sound odd, but the result is tasty - they lose most of their peppery bite and get very mellow, almost like a roast turnip.

Roasted Root Vegetables (makes four side-dish-sized servings):

What You Need:

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 8-10 medium-sized red potatoes
  • 4 carrots
  • 6-8 radishes (I used the purple-skinned variety)
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
How to Do It:
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the root vegetables into two-inch pieces. Try to get the vegetables into similar sized pieces, but don't be too worried with uniform shapes. Rustic is nice.
  3. Put the chopped vegetables and garlic into a roasting pan. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Use your hands to toss everything together, making sure the vegetables are coated with oil.
  4. Roast the vegetables in the oven until tender, gently stirring every fifteen minutes or so to ensure even cooking - about forty-five minutes. Enjoy!

The vinegary kale provides a delicious counterpoint to the vegetables. The texture is more hearty, where the vegetables are soft, and the flavor is green and slightly bitter (as leafy greens are), where the vegetables are sweet. Its more assertive flavor balances out the gentle roasted carrots and sweet potatoes. The cooking method for the kale is again very simple and works for all sorts of dark green leafy vegetables, like collards, turnip greens, chard, and beet greens.

Sauteed Kale with Onions and Red Wine Vinegar: (makes four side-dish-sized servings):

What You Need:
  • 1 pound of kale, washed, stems removed, leaves cut into thin pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
How to Do It:
  1. In a large saute pan (I used a non-stick, wok-shaped pan), heat the oil on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the sliced onion, and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent - about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the kale to the pan and stir to combine (it will cook down quickly and considerably). If it seems to be drying out, add a tablespoon or so of water. Continue to cook until the kale is dark green and tender.
  3. Season with the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Enjoy!

This, to me, is the best kind of vegan comfort food. And with its bright colors and abundance of different vegetables, you can tell right away that it is nutritious. In fact, according to the cookbook Power Foods (not a vegan cookbook, but with a distinct emphasis on plants) that I checked out from my local library, kale, sweet potatoes, and carrots are all designated "power foods" - some of the healthiest foods on Earth. So eat up!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday Reviews Day: Field Roast Vegan Sausage

Yesterday I stopped by my local natural foods store, Richmond Virginia's Ellwood Thompson's Local Market, to see what new and interesting vegan products have come on the market during my two-year hiatus from veganism. Turns out, there are a lot! But I wanted to try a fake meat product for dinner, and I really liked the packaging on the Field Roast vegan sausage. I also liked that they are made from wheat gluten - I've enjoyed seitan in the past, so it would make sense if these sausages were similarly tasty. I grabbed a package of the smoked apple and sage variety (they also come in Italian and Mexican chipotle) - four sausages for $5.69.

It was a little tricky getting these out of the plastic casings. In the process, one of the sausages broke in half. But once they were out, it was simple enough to wrap the sausages in foil and stick them in the oven to cook until they were hot and lightly browned on the outside.

I ate these with roasted root vegetables and braised kale with onions and red wine vinegar. The smoky, rustic flavor really rounded out the meal. I was impressed by the texture - I think wheat meat must be the "meatiest" textured fake meat. It was very pleasant, with bits of apple and potato in the sausage. And they are definitely more wholesome than ordinary sausage.

A blog that is primarily about tasty vegan food is not the place to discuss in detail how non-vegan sausage is made. But, if you are interested, look up some of the common ingredients in meat sausage and find out how they are derived and what they actually are - start with mechanically separated pork or mechanically separated chicken or turkey. Or, watch this video from Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, in which he demonstrates how mechanically separated chicken is made.

These vegan sausages are by no means low-calorie, however. The smoked apple sage variety has 240 calories per sausage, so you'll probably only want to enjoy one banger with your mash. Luckily, they are a good size as well as being very rich and satisfying.

If I had to make a complaint, it would be that the sausages are a little on the salty side, as meat substitutes sometimes tend to be. I would also prefer if the sausages were easier to get out of the plastic casing, but that might also be a problem with my technique. All in all, I enjoyed the meal I cooked with Field Roast vegan sausages, and I would happily purchase this product again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Almost Chipotle" Beans and Rice

Chipotle Mexican Grill is one of my favorite places to eat. The food is cheap, fresh, and good, and there are a lot of vegan options - all except for the meat, dairy, pinto beans (there's bacon in there), and honey chipotle vinaigrette for salads is vegan. This meal has a lot of the same ingredients and flavors as a vegan Chipotle burrito bowl - for when a craving hits, but you don't feel like leaving home. Incidentally, this happens to me about every other day.

This special version of beans and rice includes brown rice flavored with lots of lime juice, fresh cilantro (which, on this occasion, was locally grown in Virginia by the amazing Frog Bottom Farm), black beans seasoned with a bay leaf, oregano, lots of chili powder and cumin, and Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce. Those are topped with roasted onions, peppers, zucchini, and squash, and finally, a whole avocado, chopped and tossed with lime.

How to make "Almost Chipotle" Beans and Rice (makes about 4 servings):
What you need:
  • 4 servings hot cooked brown rice, cooked according to package directions
  • 2 limes
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cans black beans (1 drained, 1 not drained)
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce (or to taste)
  • 1 green pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into half-moons
  • 1 zucchini, cut into half-moons
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive or canola oil
  • 4 avocados
  • salt, to taste
  • extra hot sauce, to serve
How to do it:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the black beans, including the cooking liquid from the undrained can of beans, with the bay leaf, oregano, chili powder, cumin and Tabasco. Stir, and simmer on very low heat until the flavors have combined and the beans are heated through. Add salt to taste.
  3. While the beans are simmering, toss the onion, pepper, zucchini, and squash with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Spread the vegetables evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in the oven until the vegetables are cooked and the edges are browned, about 20-30 minutes.
  4. Combine the hot cooked brown rice with the juice of one lime and the entire bunch of chopped cilantro (use less if you prefer - but I love the stuff!) Adjust seasoning. Keep warm until ready to serve.
  5. Remove the flesh from the avocados and chop into chunks. Toss the avocado with the juice of the second lime and season lightly with salt.
  6. When all the components are cooked and ready, assemble the meal on a plate with a base of the cilantro-lime brown rice, topped with the black beans (try to remove that bay leaf, if you can find it!), then some of the roasted vegetables, followed by the avocado. The dish is especially good with Valentina hot sauce poured on just before eating. Enjoy!

This meal is truly a complete one, with grains, vegetables, beans, and even fruit. The leftovers reheat nicely, but if you plan to save some for leftovers, cut the avocados for the leftover portions when it's time to eat - they can turn brown overnight, even with liberal amounts of lime juice. Even though eating at Chipotle is really cheap, as far as eating out goes, it is even cheaper to make this meal at home. You also get to control the spice and seasoning level yourself, and swapping brown rice for Chipotle's white rice adds nutritional value to the meal - always a good thing!