Tag Archives: Veggie-vore

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.

Sandwich Nirvana: Easy Heirloom Bean Spread (Cooking with Dried Legumes III)

Humming a different tune, happily

I’ve mentioned before that ideally, I’d avoid eating hummus at home. It’s delicious, easy, and cheap, but you can have too much of a good thing, you know?

Bread, crackers, and crudites beware: a new spread's in town.

So if I avoid hummus, am I just done with bean spreads at home? No way.

Here’s what I ate today.  If I say so myself, it was great. Way better than my initial attempt at making a bean spread.

Refreshing summer yumminess.

In the shadow of Tahini …

Of course I used Rancho Gordo beans. This time, I tried out the Yellow Indian Woman Bean.

Rancho Gordo's Yellow Indian Woman Bean

But what to do about other ingredients? A mix of plain beans and oil doesn’t exactly come out well. Part of the genius of hummus is Tahini. It adds flavor and texture so beautifully. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but are there alternatives?  

Of course there are! Because I’m kind of a health nut, and health nuts do weirdo stuff like put flaxseed in everything, I decided to go with flax. Ground flaxseeds have a beautiful nutty taste. They also function to bind ingredients together. (It’s downright gluey when you blend them with water.) 

Taste, texture, and nutrients. Take that, tahini! You're not the only spreadmaker on earth, after all 🙂

I also put in some almond meal because who doesn’t love almonds?

To finish it off, I used walnut oil, some spices, and … GOLDEN RAISINS.   

The spread just needed a little something extra. I was inspired by my mom’s chicken salad. She always adds raisins and walnuts, and it’s so yummy. I was a little nervous about adding raisins to beans, but I quite love how it turned out!

I enjoy plenty of veggies on my sandwiches and cilantro is one of my addictions, so I piled on the extras.  Here’s the recipe:

Summer Sandwich Nirvana

Serves 2

Ingredients

Dragon Fruit Heirloom Bean Spread (see recipe below) 
Four slices whole grain bread
Thinly sliced cucumbers
Sliced tomatoes
Thinly sliced onion (I used the white part of a scallion)
Handful of chopped cilantro
Handful of mixed salad greens
Sea salt, to taste
 

Directions

Place mixed salad greens on two slices of bread.  Divide the spread evenly on two slices of bread, over the salad greens.  Add sliced tomatoes and onions.

On the other two slices of bread, layer sliced cucumbers and add cilantro.  Add sea salt to taste and assemble sandwiches.

The Dragon Fruit Heirloom Bean Spread

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 c cooked heirloom beans such as Rancho Gordo Yellow Indian Woman Beans, drained very well
2 Tb ground flaxseed
1 Tb almond meal (you can just add finely ground almonds if you’d rather not buy a bag of almond meal)
1 Tb fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tb walnut or other oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
Dash of sea salt 
Dash of ground black pepper
1 heaping Tb golden raisins
Cilantro or parsley and lemon zest for garnish, optional
 

Directions

Drain beans VERY WELL. If there is too much liquid, you’ll end up with a baby food texture like mush.

Grind beans in a food processor until they are a paste.

Add ground flaxseed and pulse in food processor until evenly distributed (for shorthand, I’ll just say “pulse”).  Add remaining ingredients and pulse as follows:

Add almond meal and pulse.

Add lemon juice and oil and pulse.

Add salt, pepper, and coriander and pulse.

Add raisins and pulse.

Notes

You can probably just add everything and pulse it all together, but I feel like I want to make sure my purée is consistent. I’ve added the ingredients in a stepwise fashion to avoid getting clumps of any one ingredient in the spread.

Food Processor Magic

Drain the beans well to avoid mushy texture!

Pulsing just the beans in the food processor ends up looking like this. I had to pulse a lot and scrape down the sides often.

Texture after the addition of flaxseed meal, almond meal, and lemon juice. When making this spread for the first time, I added each ingredient one by one, but you don't need to be so painstaking.

And here's the almost-finished product, after adding the oil.

Now this texture was what I was looking for!

And this texture is fading away until it's just a baaad memory. What a sad sandwich!

What a happy sandwich!

Beware the "Pot Liquor"! Good for flavor in more watery dishes, but this opaque beany essence is just plain bad for sandwich spreads.

Ballin’ — Yamuna Devi’s Divine Melon Dessert, Easily Veganized

Recipe Perfection

FOOD OF THE GODS. This was what I thought the first time I tasted Yamuna Devi’s recipe for Carbooj Mithai, “Melon Bowl Supreme with Honey-Lime Dressing,” from her venerable tome The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. It’s divine. Shockingly good. I am glad that my life on this earth has included experiences with this beautiful summer dessert.

One of the greatest summer desserts, period. Thank you, Yamuna Devi!!

It’s not vegan because it contains honey. Close enough, some might say.  

But I just wondered … would it be a sacrilege to tinker with perfection? Just to see? 

Honey, Just Try the Agave

To me, the honey seemed critical in creating the heady, complex sweetness that haunts this dessert. Replacing it worried me.

But needlessly so! Sure, honey makes a difference, but the agave nectar is just as fantastic. And since agave nectar has a lower glycemic index than honey, it might be the more desirable sweetener to use in this recipe if you prefer to keep your GI lower.

Yeah, I’m Ballin’ … But …

So, the recipe instructs you to use a melon baller and also to use the melon rinds as a serving vessel. I actually did not feel so ballin’ when I was balling. It seemed wasteful, too – there’s an awful lot of melon that goes unused because it looks too odd to serve next to the little half orbs of melon that come from the baller.  

Very pretty, but ... see below for the, er, "outtakes."

I really only used the baller because I knew I’d be posting pictures to the blog. In the past, all I’ve done is cube the melon. I guess serving it in the hollowed out rind is fancy, but I’ve never done it. That presentation is a little over the top for me at home, although it would be quite impressive when entertaining.

At any rate, no matter what it looks like – and regardless of your religious beliefs -I think you will agree that this dish is simply, divinely, sublimely …  heavenly. 

Vegan Version of Yamuna Devi’s Carbooj Mithai, “Melon Bowl Supreme with Honey-Lime Dressing”

 Ingredients

1 watermelon, 3-4 lbs
1 small canteloupe or Ogden melon
1 small honeydew or charentais melon
1/4 c agave nectar (I used dark agave nectar)
1/4 c fresh lime juice
2 Tb fresh orange juice
2 Tb fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp finely ground ginger or 1/2 Tb scraped, finely chopped fresh ginger root (I forgot to buy ginger and didn’t really miss it, so I’m calling this ingredient optional)
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds
2 Tb olive oil or almond oil (I’ve used organic extra virgin olive oil and it’s great)
2 c blueberries (You can use less if you, like me, get sticker shock when buying berries)
a few sprigs of mint for garnishing (I chopped it finely and sprinkled it on the melon)
 

Directions

Use a melon baller to make balls -OR- chop melons into even, medium sized cubes.  Mix in blueberries.

In a separate bowl, combine other ingredients, mix well.  Pour over melon and berry mixture, serve.

Notes

Yamuna Devi’s instructions are more precise – she says to cover and refrigerate the melon, set aside the blueberries and mint, then to use a blender to process the other ingredients.

Before serving, she says to drain the melon, mix with the blueberries, then add the sauce and garnish with the mint.

It’s true, the melon will drain and produce more liquid.  If you plan on making this dish in advance and serving it later, you should probably heed this advice, although it will still taste good if you don’t drain the melon.

Ballin’ – It Just Looks Easy …

Here are some pretty ones.

But they all don't turn out so pretty! Maddening!

Oh, those poor melons. This image was too funny not to share.

Then what do you do with this stuff? Frozen daiquiris?

It's like red Swiss cheese or something, oddly unnerving!

!!Yo Quiero Rancho Gordo!! (Cooking with Dried Legumes I)

The Musical Fruit

Some say adding kombu (the stuff that is not the beans or the onion) helps, er, tone down the music.

Beans. If you are like me, you did not grow up eating them regularly and most often paid attention to beans when mocking them. We all know that song from grade school:  

Beans, beans, the musical fruit – the more you eat, the more you toot – the more you toot, the better you feel, so let’s eat beans at every meal!

The ending is sarcastic. You wouldn’t be caught dead eating beans after hearing that song.  

So, maybe beans make you musical. If so, I’m sorry. But if you’re willing to look past the bad reputation they had in grade school – and who really deserved a bad rep at that age? – you can learn to love the legume.

“Cool Beans”

Unlike people, not all beans are created equal. The most fabulous,fun, and flavorful beans out there that I’ve found are from Rancho Gordo. Check out their site. It’s informative and super-cute. If you can’t find RG beans where you live, you can order from the website. Awesomeness! What makes RG beans so special is the fact that they aren’t just any old beans. They are old heirloom varieties of beans, stuff you probably have never tried before. What’s more, they’re very farmer-friendly and have changed lives in Mexico. Incredible.

If you know the difference between an heirloom tomato and a cheap, canned conventional tomato, well, it gives you an idea of the difference between cheap canned beans (which I do like!) and the heirloom variety.

Honestly, it’s just cool to try out new foods that are nutritious and delicious.  I saw RG Christmas Lima beans the other day and picked them up. I love giant lima beans.  Their texture is so meaty (sorry if that phraseology offends anyone) and hearty. And these bad boys looked so interesting!

So … were the Christmas Limas naughty or nice?  I thought they were dee-licious! The texture is wonderful, the taste is kind of like chestnuts (as the package promised), and they are really filling. Here’s some more bean pics:

So attractive! How could I resist trying them out?


Raw & cooked. Close to actual size!

The RG website has info on how to prepare their beans. It’s really easy.  

I soak dried beans overnight, rinse them a few times before cooking, then simmer them until they’re the texture I like.


Unless I have lots of time or have planned ahead, I usually cook beans one day while doing something else, then actually eat them the next day.  They keep in the fridge nicely and are ready to add to salads, pilafs, pastas, sandwiches, etc. 

So how do you eat these things?

Yes, I know you eat them with your mouth.  But with new foods, it’s sometimes daunting to figure out what to do with them. I am still working with kitchen limitations, so it was another pasta night for me. I know that this recipe is strikingly similar to my last post (pasta, veg, legume). While not the most creative thing ever, I’m getting nutrition, variety, and tastiness with minimal work. This combination was pretty yummy, if I say so myself.

One thing I want to show is that once you find a method that is easy for you, you can riff on it endlessly and not feel like you’re eating the same thing nightafternightafternightafternight …

So … here’s a quick and easy way to enjoy some of the most extraordinary beans around, the Rancho Gordo Christmas Limas. Stay tuned for more – stews, side dishes, all sorts of ideas come to mind … and will come into being, once my movers finally deliver my kitchen stuff!

Pasta Spirals with Christmas Lima Beans and Fried Zucchini

Serves 2

Another quick meal. If you have cooked beans on hand, all you need to do is boil pasta and fry up some zucchini. Mmmmm.

 Ingredients

2 servings whole wheat pasta (Trade Joe’s Organic Whole Wheat Rotelle is GREAT)
2 small – medium zucchinis, cut into matchsticks
2 tsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1-2 cups cooked Christmas Lima beans (Rancho Gordo recommended)
 

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions.

While water for pasta is boiling, reheat the beans in a separate pot with their cooking liquid, if needed.

Chop zucchini into matchsticks.  Place zucchini in medium or large skillet, turn heat on high.  When skillet reaches high heat, drizzle olive oil over zucchini and reduce heat if needed to prevent scorching.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  (I like to add a ton of black pepper.)  Stir to distribute oil and salt and pepper, but don’t keep stirring throughout.  Cook on high heat – without stirring – until zucchini is very dark brown on one side.  When one side of the zucchini is dark brown or at the desired doneness, turn off heat.  Stir zucchini to let other sides of the vegetables cook and to keep warm while pasta finishes cooking.

Drain pasta.  Stir in zucchini.  Drain beans and stir in.  Season with additional salt if desired.

Adding some toasted walnut oil would probably be really delicious, but I didn’t have any on hand to test out that idea …


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