Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sauteed Beets with Skordalia and Tempeh

Ah, beets. Unfortunately many people have a fairly strong hatred for this vegetable (my mother, for one), most likely due to the very common canned variety known mainly for its lack of flavor, texture, and fun. Or perhaps people are turned off by the root vegetable's scientific classification: "Beta Vulgaris." Whatever the case may be, it is my opinion that beets have gotten the short end of the stick over the years, and it's about time we re-evaluate this "nutritional powerhouse." Beets are not only gorgeous (they come in a wide range of jewel tones), but they are excellent sources of antioxidants, potassium, and folic acid.

I've been on a beet kick over the past month or so, after quite randomly selecting a recipe from Vegan With A Vengeance that called for the vegetable. To my delight, I found beets to be not only flavorful, but easy to work with (contrary to popular belief). Sure, they turn your hands purple, but that's the fun part! It's like finger painting all over again. And it washes off with soap and water, you for all you worry-warts.

So, when Sierra graciously provided this month's edition of Martha Stewart Living as a pastime for work, I was thrilled to find an entire article on beets! It's like the stars were aligned for me. You can check out the online version of the article here. Included in this article were a handful of yummy-looking recipes to try with beets, and though none were vegan, I decided I had to give it a go. With a few tweaks, the recipe for beets and skordalia was easily vegan-ized.

A note on skordalia: yes, this is an unusual word you've probably never heard. I hadn't come across it before, either, but Wikipedia quickly cleared things up for me. Skordalia is a thick puree that is found in Greek cuisine, usually made from potatoes, garlic, and vinegar. It's a tangy and tart, and is most notably served with beets. Also, I was excited to read that on the Ionian Islands, they make it with lemon instead of vinegar. I think we all know that'll be happening soon.

Anyway, here's your traditional skordalia with beets and tempeh. Hope you enjoy!


For Skordalia:
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1/2 cup oil (Martha called for Safflower, which I didn't have, so I went with a combo of olive and vegetable)
1/4 cup white wine
Coarse salt

For Beets:
4-6 (1 pound) mixed beets, scrubbed well and trimmed
2 cups baby lettuce (I used Mache, I highly recommend)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

For Tempeh:
1 8-ounce package of tempeh, cut into thin triangles
1/4 olive oil
1/2 red wine
1/4 red wine vinegar
1 tsp oregano
2 cloves crushed garlic
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Like Martha did, I'm going to write out the instructions for this recipe in three sections. Read the full instruction set first so you can decide how you'd like to go about tackling all three. None is particularly more difficult than the other, but timing-wise they don't always add up. I did yoga in between boiling sessions- just ask Jenn, it was a hilarious sight.

Bring potatoes and garlic to a boil in a medium pot of salted water. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Do some yoga while you wait. Drain them in a colander, and let 'em cool.
While they're cooling, peel and smash the garlic cloves. Place potatoes, garlic, and vinegar in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Add the oil in a steady stream, then white wine. Continue pulsing until the mixture is smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and season with salt. Cover it all up, and refrigerate until you're ready to use.

Bring beets to a boil in a pot of salted water. Reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Go do some more yoga. After a while, check out the color of the water. This isn't part of the recipe, it's just awesome how purple it gets! Drain the beets in a colander and let cool. When they're of a touchable temperature, it's time to peel. If you've never worked with beets in this manner, the easiest way to get the peel off is to just apply pressure with your fingers and rub. If your beets have been cooking long enough, the peel will easily remove itself from the inside of the beet. Your hands will get purple, but it's a quick and easy way to peel them. Plus, the purple washes off, so you don't have to look like the one-eyed, one-horned, giant-purple-people-eater at work the next day. Moving on.

Cut the beets into one- to two-inch long pieces. If you've got mini beets, you can do quarters. I could only find the normal sized ones, so I cut them as if I was slicing an orange. Either is fine. Next, heat the olive oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add your garlic and beets, and cook until the garlic has turned golden brown, about three to five minutes. Finally, add the mache lettuce in handfuls and cook until slightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper, and you're ready to go!

In a medium saucepan, bring several cups of salted water to a boil. Drop in the tempeh triangles and allow them to simmer for five minutes. Sounds strange, yes, but boiling allows the tempeh to absorb marinade more easily. While the triangles are boiling, assemble the marinade in a shallow pan or casserole dish by whisking together the olive oil, red wine, vinegar, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. When the tempeh is ready, evacuate it from the water with tongs, and place it immediately in the marinade. Allow it to rest in the marinade for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours.

To cook the tempeh, I used a grill pan on high heat. Be sure to prep the pan with some oil (I used organic high-heat canola oil spray) so it doesn't stick. Once you've placed the triangles on the hot pan, don't move the tempeh for several minutes, about five (this depends on how thin or thick your slices are). When the triangles are ready to be flipped, they will release easily from the pan and have lovely grill marks on them. Repeat for the second side, e voila!

To Plate:
Spread the cooled skordalia into a little puddle on the plate. Arrange the tempeh in a pleasing pattern on top, and spoon the beets on the plate to the side. Garnish with dill and coarsely chopped parsley.

And enjoy!

This dish held several unusual and unexpected flavors, but in the end melded together quite harmoniously. For next time, I plan on trying the skordalia Ionian Islands style- made with lemon, rather than vinegar.

Special thanks for Chris for allowing me to cook so experimentally, and for so expertly gaffing these photos.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Isa & Terry's Israeli Couscous with Pistachios and Apricots

Happy Spring, readers! Here's hoping you had a pleasant holiday, be it Easter, Passover, or whatnot.

For Easter this year, I was graciously invited to Gwen's house for a traditional-style supper. We had a full table with tons of delicious items created by the lovely Gwendelyn herself. I can only claim to one small item on the table, and I'll tell you about it here: Israeli couscous with pistachios and apricots. It's a delightful dish that I've made a time or two before, and it's straight out of my favorite cookbook, Veganomicon. Hope I don't get sued for re-posting, but it's just too good not to share. (So copyright people? Don't sue me, please! This belongs to Terry Hope Romero & Isa Chandra Moskowitz. )

This dish calls for Israeli couscous, which some of you may not be familiar with. So, we'll discuss a bit first. This is a larger version of your run-of-the-mill couscous, and it behaves a bit differently as well. I have grown to adore it over the past few months because I like how nicely it traps in the flavor of whatever you're cooking it in. Personally, I'm pretty addicted to the toast-and-broth method, as in toast the little buggers in some olive oil til they're brown then cook them in vegetable broth instead of water. They get a great color and flavor from this technique that adds some pizazz that regular couscous just can't deliver.

So on to the recipe.


2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Israeli couscous
2 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
zest from one lime
1/4 chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped to the size of raisins (see photo below)
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
juice from 1/2 lime

Detail of how I chopped the apricots.

Begin by preheating a big pot or pan over medium low heat. Place your garlic & oil in the pan and let them sizzle for about a minute. Add the couscous and toast, stirring often, until they're nice and brown. It may not be even, but that's ok. Some of them will probably be a bit darker than others. It's only natural.

Pour in your water next, it's going to make that awesome sizzly scaldy sound. I love that sound. Then, toss in the cinnamon stick, cumin, cardamom, pepper, salt, and lime zest. Raise the heat a bit, and bring to a boil. Once it gets going, lower it down to a simmer and cover.

Let it work for about 10 minutes, or until most of the water is absorbed. Then, add 2 tablespoons of the mint, the apricots, pistachios, and lime juice. Stir, cover again, and cook for about five more minutes, or until it looks like this:

Remove the cinnamon stick (yeah, eating that might not be so pleasant), and transfer to your serving vessel. Garnish with the remaining mint. Delightful.

This dish has a wonderful flavor and texture, and goes great along side almost anything.

For note, you can absolutely make this dish with regular couscous. I actually did the very first time I made it, because to be honest, I had no clue what Israeli couscous was (part of me thought Isa and Terry were yanking my chain). The texture is obviously very different, but it's delightful nonetheless. It's fluffier and feels a bit lighter. So do what you want! Be creative. Unlike me, who didn't change a thing about this recipe. Maybe it was just perfect to begin with.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

And now, a classic.

Chocolate chip cookies, obviously, are an American favorite. And believe it or not, the very first chocolate chip cookie was created by accident! Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn (sound familiar?) in Massachusetts, stumbled upon the delicious happy accident in 1934. They were an instant hit, and she began giving them to customers as a dessert to take home with their leftovers. In 1936, the recipe for these popular treats appeared for the very first time in Mrs. Wakefield's cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes.

Today, these morsels of chocolaty goodness are still wildly popular. And, easy to veganize! So, when left with the conundrum of what to make for Girl's Night, I decided to give these a go. Chocolate chip cookies are the perfect side dish for gossip/cheesy movies, if you ask me. The girls seemed to agree.

I started with the recipe from Vegan With A Vengeance, and realized I didn't have all the proper ingredients. So, as usual, I winged it. And they turned out great. They were fluffy, soft, and had the perfect salt/sweet ratio. We ate the entire plate, though, admittedly, most of that was probably my fault. What can I say? I love cookies. Here's the recipe I came up with.

NOTE: Since Isa says it, I feel the need to say it. Just because it's vegan doesn't mean it's low-fat or good for you. Just like regular chocolate chip cookies, these ain't healthy, folks. But they are delicious. So screw your diet, eat them anyway.

1/2 cup earth balance (or similar non-hydrogenated) margarine
1/2 vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup vegan sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 vegan chocolate chips (available at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods)


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Begin by combining the margarine, oil, and sugar in a bowl. Beat with a hand- or stand-mixer until fluffy (I, of course, used my lovely pink Kitchen Aid stand mixer). Add the maple syrup and vanilla extract, and mix in thoroughly. Now, for the dry ingredients. Mix in the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix until well combined and creamy-ish. Fold in the chocolate chips. Here's what my dough looked like:

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet about two inches apart. Bake each batch about 8 to 10 minutes, or until ever so slightly browned (the bottom will be browner than you think). Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, and let them chill out until they're no longer scalding. Dig in.

Om nom nom.