Tag Archives: Plant-based foods

Flippin’ Out Over Pancakes

No Eggs, No Milk, No Love? 

YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME. Oh, vegan baked goods. Where do I even begin?

Yes, it can be done - fluffy, yummy vegan pancakes! Don't be discouraged by bad recipes. Not all vegan pancakes suck!

Before I start, let me show you where I finished up this morning. Here is what I ate for breakfast. It was fantastic.

But … I’m going to level with you. There are some truly horrible vegan creations out there. And I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve made some of them.

When I’m about to try an untested vegan version of something that would ordinarily be made with milk and eggs, it feels like a game of Russian Roulette. Or craps.  Or some other hard game with terrible odds.

But unlike the gambler’s fallacy, the more you take a chance on vegan baking – or pancake making – the better things get.  I promise!

Why Start From Scratch?

I don't believe in wasting food, but this wasn't food. It was garbage.

One day, I just really wanted pancakes. I’d never tried making vegan pancakes before. So I decided to play it safe. I’m not a chef. I don’t create recipes. I follow them.

First, I used a buckwheat pancake mix and subbed soy milk for dairy. I used egg substitute. And threw everything in the compost. That mix was so bad, I’m confident that the omnivore version would have been disgusting, too.

Undeterred (but hungry!), I turned to a beautiful vegan cookbook with the most sensational looking recipe. I gave it a whirl.

Does anyone actually test recipes before publication? This one failed. Failed big, I'm afraid.

I mixed the batter. It seemed to have an awful lot of liquid …

I poured it in the pan.  It spread out very thinly.  Maybe it would be more like a crepe?  I was hopeful.

I stood there. It wasn’t cooking. I turned up the heat. Still not cooking.

I added more flour and tried again. It came out really gluey. I added some blueberries.

This recipe looked so promising but didn't deliver. Like that Bon Jovi song ... No one can save me / The damage is done!


I was ravenous at this point. I ate it, but I did not enjoy it. It wasn’t a pancake so much as a floury, rubbery sweet mixture firmed up in a pan.  Oh, and by the way, it took FOREVER to cook.  

Putting “The Joy” Back in Cooking

You know, back before I made my kitchen mostly vegan, I was a killer pancake maker. This sub-par pancake situation, I took it *personally.* I am an excellent pancake maker. So why was I making such god-awful pancakes?!

I went back to my roots. The Joy of Cooking “Basic Pancakes” recipe never fails. Of course it’s not vegan, but I figured that it was as good a starting point as any. And guess what? It took very little tinkering with that masterful recipe to make it vegan and make it delicious.

There’s no sugar or soy in this recipe, and I use a mix of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. Increasing the baking powder raises the sodium content – so if you are watching your salt, you might consider using less baking powder (3/4 tsp would be the amount used in the original non-vegan recipe) and using soy milk instead of almond milk. Soy makes things rise.

The Dragon Fruit Vegan Pancakes 

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Yields about 4 medium sized pancakes, serves 2
 
Dry Ingredients
3/4 c flour (1/2 c whole wheat flour plus 1/4 c all purpose flour)
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
 
Wet Ingredients
2/3 c almond milk
2 Tb agave nectar
1.5 Tb oil (I like to use walnut oil. I’ve also used peanut oil. If you use coconut oil, warm the almond milk and the oil to enable mixing. You can use less oil and still get a nice result.)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
 
Optional Extras for the Pancake Batter – Add Some, All, or Your Own
Lemon zest, to taste
Juice of 1/6 lemon
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (1/8 – 1/4 tsp)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 c dried blueberries (I like Trader Joe’s Dried Wild Blueberries – no sulfur)
 
Topping
Dark agave nectar
Dash cinnamon
 

Directions

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl, mix well. Combine wet ingredients in bowl, mix well. Add any extras to the dry or wet ingredients and mix. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not over-mix.

Heat pan over medium – medium-high heat. Spray a light to medium coating of oil over the bottom of pan. When a drop of water sizzles on the pan, it is ready.  Pour batter and heat pancake(s) through until bubbles form and the edges turn firm. Flip and cook other side. You can test with a knife inserted in the center for doneness – there should be no raw batter that oozes out of the cut.

Remove from heat, top with some agave nectar, a dash of cinnamon, extra lemon zest, fruit, or whatever else is delicious and available.

Now this is a pancake!

The dry ingredients. For a big, citrusy flavor, use long strands of zest.

The wet ingredients.

Pancakes on the rise!

I'm totally in love with this blueberry-agave-cinnamon-nutmeg-lemon zest pancake.

Getting Fast and Dirty with … Pasta and Lentils

Breaking the silence

I stopped blogging back in October. It’s been a long time without The Dragon Fruit in my life! I moved away from San Francisco, did some traveling, and am settling into my new home in Brooklyn. With all that moving around, I often lacked access to a kitchen. No cooking, no blogging. But I’ve got a kitchen now and I’m ready to blog and cook, with a spatula in one hand and my camera in the other.

Ceci n'est pas une cuillere.

No spatula? No problem!

OK, so that was kind of a lie. I don’t have a spatula right now. I don’t have a lot of things. My movers haven’t yet arrived with my stuff. My belongings – including my kitchen stuff – are still somewhere between California and New York. In the meantime, I’m cooking with a stripped-down set of cookware. No spatulas. Just a few things to get by while still in transition.

Until then, this item on the right is my spatula.

I don’t think I can flip an egg with it, but since I’m cooking vegan food, so what? 🙂

No energy? That’s another story …

Anyone who has seen the show Top Chef understands that you don’t need fancy equipment to produce an excellent meal. A great cook can make something really delicious anywhere, even in a dorm. Hubert Keller made killer mac n’ cheese with just a hot plate, a toaster oven, and … a shower.

Anyone who has eaten take-out for dinner at 10 p.m. knows that the most formidable obstacles to cooking your own food are time and energy. Even with a fully stocked kitchen, there were many times in San Francisco when my best efforts in the kitchen amounted to peeling the foil off a burrito and putting it on a plate. Then yes, I ate it while watching Top Chef. I can tell you this – Hubert Keller didn’t have a kitchen sink, but he persevered because he was full of vim and vigor. And some major derring-do.

So what happens when you have no vim, no vigor, and nary a spatula within reach? Before you high-tail it to the taqueria, consider whether it might just be easier to cook up some pasta with lentils.

"Keep smilin' ... keep shinin' ... knowing you can always count on me. For sure. That's what friends are for!" -- Dionne Warwick and Friends

The lentil is your friend

I love burritos. Don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t hurt to mix things up a bit, especially if you’ve already had burritos three times this week and since your loyal friend, the humble canned lentil, is so easily transformed into a deeply satisfying meal.

Pasta is of course an obviously quick and easy meal. Adding lentils into the mix not only increases the nutritional value of the meal by providing protein, fiber, and legume-y (yup, that’s a word) nutrients, but also adds extra heft and more texture – effortlessly. You just pop open the can.

Lentils can complement many meals because their flavor is not overpowering and, as they say, plays well with others.

Here’s some ideas to get you started. You don’t need any fancy equipment. You don’t even necessarily need a can opener. You just need the time it takes to boil pasta, and a little derring-do of your own to push through those days when you’re short on time and energy but long on hunger.

Yes, dried lentils that you soak and cook yourself will produce a better result, but canned lentils will really do in a pinch.

I made this first dish using a spoon as a spatula in my nearly empty apartment when I was very tired and very starving. I felt so much better after eating this nourishing, home-cooked meal, which came together quite quickly. (No showers were used to prepare the meal.  I’m no master chef, so I’ll leave the advanced techniques to the professionals!)

The walnuts and lentils were the key textural, flavor, and nutritional elements that really made this dish noteworthy.

Also, I have Cambodian Kampot pepper on hand – which I like to use very liberally.

Pasta Spirals with Lentils & Seared Yellow Peppers

Serves 2

Minimal effort. Maximum satisfaction!

Ingredients

2 servings whole wheat pasta (Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Wheat Rotelle is GREAT)
1 yellow pepper
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper, preferably one of excellent quality such as Cambodian Kampot pepper
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 can lentils, drained
1 cup greens (can be any kind – spinach, even a salad mix, which I used) 
 

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions or al dente.

While water for pasta is boiling, roughly chop a yellow bell pepper and chop garlic. Place peppers in medium or large skillet, turn heat on high.  When skillet reaches high heat, drizzle olive oil over peppers and reduce heat if needed to prevent scorching. Add salt and pepper to taste.  (I like to add a ton of black pepper.) Cook on high heat until peppers soften and darken to your desired texture.

Add chopped garlic and stir. Add sliced almonds and chopped walnuts.   (You could toast these in a dry skillet before cooking the peppers.) Reduce heat and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Add lentils (do not add the liquid from the can) and stir. Keep on medium or low heat until pasta finishes cooking.

Drain pasta. Toss with pepper and lentil mixture.

Wilt greens in the pot you used to cool the pasta – place greens in pot on medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes until they just wilt. Stir into the dish.

Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired. Season to taste.

Easiest Meal Ever

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 servings whole wheat pasta
1/4 – 1/2 jar of tomato sauce
1 can of lentils, drained
Salt & pepper
 

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat tomato sauce in a pan with lentils (do not add the liquid from the can).

Toss together and season with salt and pepper.

Optional:  Drizzle with olive oil.

Bonus Points:  Before you heat the tomato sauce, crush and chop a clove or two of garlic. Add oil to the saucepan, cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes on medium heat, then add the tomato sauce and lentils. If you’ve got some pre-washed veggies on hand, have a salad on the side. Easy, easy, easy – but still very satisfying.

Home Cooking Hits Home Run! (Dragon Noodle Recipe)

A scrappy new kid on the block has just stolen home.  Well, my heart anyway.

Recently I achieved the impossible.  I made a dish inspired by my favorite Thai dish, Drunken Noodle (a.k.a. Pad Kee Mao), and I LIKED it.  I REALLY liked it!

Dragon Noodle, above. Hasta luego, drunken noodles, time for you to check into rehab!

It was not Drunken Noodle, a firey-hot meal blazing with the distinctive flavor of garlic, chilies, basil, and onions.  Drunken Noodle stirs my soul. When done just right, I feel at one with the universe.  This is not a joke.

Drunken Noodle is most often made with fish sauce and may also contain eggs, oyster sauce, meat, or shrimp. I’ve only ever enjoyed it in restaurants.  I’d tried to make it a few times and failed.  Failed!  An old Nine Inch Nails song comes to mind:  I tried.  I gave up.  I tried.  I gave up.  I tried.  I gave up!

But after years of not trying, I tried again, and I hear another song:  At laaaast … and here we are in heaven, for you are mine at last!

The dish I made is not a vegan version of Drunken Noodle.  It’s its own dish that borrows a lot of the good stuff from its inspiration.  My version – let’s call it Dragon Noodle (recipe below) – is lighter and has a higher vegetables-to-noodles ratio.  I’m not sure it’s a crowd-pleaser, due to all the lime, which is sour, but which makes all the other flavors really sing.  I never, ever, in a million years thought I could create these flavors.  But lo and behold, with practice and a can-do attitude, my kitchen and I can hold our own with the restaurants.

Be it ever so humble ...

Speaking of my kitchen, this is it.  To put it generously, it’s VERY basic.  It has very little counter space.  Fortunately it has  space for a full-size dining table, which doubles as counter space.  I rent my apartment for its location, not the kitchen, and I did not choose the color scheme of white on white on white (yes sir, the floor is white).  As humble as it is, I’m posting this picture for a couple of reasons.

"It ain't fancy baby, that's okayyyyyyy!" -- Bon Jovi

First, the food you see on this blog is food I make.

Second, I make this food in this place.

Personally, my sense of vanity would rather have you imagine that I’m in some stainless steel oasis of idealized kitchen post-modernity.

But I want to show that you can make food that you really, really like in any kitchen, be it state-of-the-art or state-of-it-is-what-it-is.

TDF’s Recipe for Dragon Noodle (scroll down for pictures)

Serves 2-4 (main dish – small dish)

Ingredients

3.5 oz (½ standard package) rice stick noodles, cooked, drained, tossed with a little soy sauce and/or oil to keep from sticking
1 Tb peanut oil, untoasted sesame oil, or other light tasting oil that can withstand high heat (don’t use extra virgin olive oil)
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt
6 oz firm tofu cut into strips of your preferred size (I prefer 1.0″ x 1/2 ” x 1/4 “) (see note regarding tofu below)
1 medium red bell pepper, roughly chopped (about 1 – 1.5 c)
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced (or more if desired!)
1-2 fresh chili peppers (or more!) (jalapeno, serrano, or other variety), finely chopped.   Retain seeds unless you want to adjust the heat downwards
1 c roughly chopped tomatoes
1/4 c rice vinegar
2 Tb soy sauce, less or more to taste
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves removed from stems (about 1 cup of basil leaves)
1 lime, skin well-washed (see note at end of recipe)
Ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

Cook rice noodles according to package directions.  Drain very well and toss with a splash of soy sauce and/or a dash of oil to keep from sticking.  Set aside.  Do not cover.

Throughout this recipe, you will want to keep the heat in your pan as close to high as you can.  Of course you should reduce the heat to avoid burning the food.  If you have lowered the temperature, however, it’s a good idea to raise the heat to high or a high medium-high when you add new ingredients.  The idea in this dish is not to cook the vegetables over moderate heat until they yield and become tender.  You want to cook it quickly to maximize the flavors and preserve some crispness in the peppers.

In a 10” or larger cast iron pan, heat 1 Tb peanut oil or untoasted sesame oil until hot but not smoking, on high or high-medium-high heat.  Add onions and stir.  Add a pinch of salt (but not a lot, since you will add soy sauce to the whole dish later).  Cook until onions have softened, turned light brown, and begin to darken in places –  you want these onions to provide a deep flavor that comes from cooking them well on high heat, so you want these dark places.  Push onions to the side of the pan and clear an empty space for the tofu.

Add tofu to pan, positioning each piece so that the surface comes into direct contact with the pan.  You may reduce the heat to medium or medium-high to keep the onions and/or tofu from burning.  Once the tofu has turned golden brown, flip and brown the other side.  Mix tofu and onions together in the pan.

Add red peppers and cook until slightly softened, 2-4 minutes – if you reduced the heat to medium for the tofu, return the heat to medium-high/high at this point.  Add minced garlic and chopped chili peppers and stir.  Cook until peppers are tender-crisp, about 2-4 more minutes.  Stir the vegetable and tofu mixture well.

Add chopped tomatoes and stir.  Make sure heat is high or medium high, being careful not to burn the food.  Cook one minute.  Quickly swirl rice vinegar and soy sauce into the pan, stirring to distribute evenly and to cook off excess moisture, cooking at high heat.  By now some of the ingredients in the pan should begin to have a slightly charred look around the edges.  If not, cook at high heat for 1-3 minutes, being careful not to make the vegetables too mushy.  Holding lime and zester directly over the pan, add lime zest to taste (start with the zest of ¼ of the lime).  Add the juice of ¼ to ½ of the lime and stir.  Add basil leaves and stir quickly.

Stir about half of the cooked rice noodles into the pan – don’t add all of the noodles at once.  Assess the proportions and judge whether the vegetable-to-noodle ratio seems right to you, keeping in mind that you can always add in more noodles and that the flavors reside in the vegetables.   Add more soy sauce to the noodles if desired.  You can either just heat the noodles enough to incorporate them into the dish, or cook them a bit longer in the pan, so that the noodle edges begin to crisp slightly.  Do not cook these noodles too long, or they will become unpleasantly tough or hard, and don’t overcook the whole thing or else the vegetables will turn mushy.  Err on the side of undercooking the noodles at this stage.

Remove promptly from heat.  I recommend serving on plates using tongs.  Garnish with ground black pepper and, as desired, extra basil and/or lime juice/zest.

Note on ingredients generally

Your individual preferences may call for more or less of any component of this dish.  You can also add in 1-2 other vegetables.  I probably would prefer more onions, garlic, chili, and lime than the “average” person I have in mind.  I might toss in some scallions or another half yellow onion.  I tried mushrooms once (you can see them in the top photo), but I didn’t feel they added much flavor.

Note on tofu

The tofu I use in this recipe is sealed in plastic, without water (see picture of ingredients, above).  When my chopped tofu hits the pan, there isn’t any excess water going into the pan with it.

If you are using tofu that is packed in water, you need to ensure that you don’t add soggy tofu to the pan with the onions.  Although the liquid will cook off, some of it will become absorbed into the onions, changing their flavor and texture.  Covering the tofu, then pressing it with a heavy pan can help drain the excess water.  Another option, which may work better depending on how watery your tofu is and how successful you are at pressing out the excess water, is to cook the tofu in a separate pan with some oil first.

Note on lime

If you wish to omit the lime juice and/or zest until the dish is finished, you may.

If lime juice is not for you, try substituting something sweeter, such as mirin or even sherry (you will need to cook these liquids into the dish, as they contain alcohol).  You will want some other flavor component besides soy sauce, otherwise, the dish will taste flat.

Note on cooking times

Preferences are important.  The times suggested are approximations only – use your eyes and your tasting skills to judge what works best for you.  Don’t let the basil get mushy looking – you want it to be just wilted.

Dragon Noodle Photo Gallery

Rice noodle details - although you can use other noodles, I like using these skinny ones. They seem less "thirsty" to me than wider noodles and thus require less oil and sauce. TPP of the NYT recently extolled the virtues of these noodles. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/01/use-your-rice-noodle/?ref=health

Once the ingredients are assembled and prepared, this dish comes together pretty quickly.

Chopped onion, my preferred size.

Cooked noodles, tossed with a little soy sauce and a drizzle of oil to prevent clumping.

Onions and tofu browning.

Chilies and garlic, yum!

Onions, tofu, bell pepper, garlic, chilies, tomato, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Note how much liquid is in the pan and compare to next photo.

After rice vinegar and soy sauce have cooked off, add basil!

Plated and ready to eat. The cooked basil actually wilted too much - but since I had more on hand, it all worked out just fine.

So, What Do You EAT?

chickpeas with orange zest, cardamom, rainbow chard, and whole grain couscous

Why this blog?

To mark six months of eating a predominantly plant-based diet, I created this blog.  It’s another blog about food.  Guilty as charged.

These days, everyone is snapping pictures of what they eat, and to be a foodie is not much of a distinction anymore.  After all, who doesn’t watch Top Chef?

In the midst of higher quality recipes and sharper, more artistic photographs, what makes THIS blog worthy of existing?

You asked for it!

Well, maybe YOU personally didn’t ask for this blog, but I have been asked lots of questions about food in the last six months.  How do you get full?  What can you eat?  What can’t you eat?  What about cookies? These questions weren’t asked solely out of politeness or driven by panic (e.g.oh-no-you’re-coming-to-my-dinner-party-what-on- earth-am-I-going-to-do). People really wanted to know.

I think some folks even thought it was cool to strive for a plant-based diet.  I know I live in San Francisco, but there are a lot of hard core carnivores in this city.  Crazy!

after a grocery run

I didn’t realize that choosing to avoid animal products – meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, even honey – seems like such a radical thing that most people assume someone must be vegan in order to forego, voluntarily, savory prosciutto, the joys of ice cream, and pastries.  Ah, pastries.  People were genuinely interested in the unprincipled principles undergirding my avoidance of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs most (but not all) of the time.

So, maybe not you, but somebody asked, and for this inaugural post, I answer with a bunch of pictures.  Of what I eat.  Another food blog … but maybe with a twist.  And come on, admit it.  You’re a little veg-curious, aren’t you?  😉

whole wheat penne with mushrooms, greens, garlic, onions, and olive oil

kabli chana baigan tarkari

rancho gordo pinquitos in tomato based sauce with vegetables

spinach salad with pink radishes, black lentils, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes

eggplant and giant lima bean stew with garlic, ginger, harissa, chilies, and tomatoes

cinnamon raisin muffin

zucchini watercress soup with fresh tarragon and lemon zest

whole wheat pancake with cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest with walnut oil