Sunday, March 25, 2012

build-a-salad workshop and mango mustard dressing recipe

Salad: a vegan cliche, but I just can't get enough
I know it's cliché, but the fact is, I eat a lot of salads. I just can't understand how anyone couldn't love a fresh bowl of greens, punctuated by an ever-changing kaleidoscope of add-ins like chickpeas, sweet roasted red peppers, sweet onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, or grilled eggplant. I eat a huge, and I mean HUGE bowl of salad for dinner at least 3-4 night a week. My personal salad bowl is actually the size that most Americans use to make salad for a family of four [see photo above, that's my bowl].

Like most things culinary, a salad is only as good as its base and ingredients. Anemic greens and tasteless bottled dressings can turn a potentially wondrous meal into an object of disdain for kids and adults alike. Chances are, if you don't like your salad, perhaps you never tasted one properly prepared.

Lately, my greens of choice are organic baby lettuce, arugula, frisée and mache, a tender, melt-in-your mouth lettuce I fell in love with in France.  I think they have the most assertive flavors. Once in a while I'll toss in some mesclun, red or green leaf lettuce or romaine, for variety. And I'll admit to a guilty pleasure: iceberg lettuce. It may not pack the same nutritional punch as its darker green cousins, but I adore its creamy, nostalgic flavor. [Hey, there are worse guilty pleasures, right?]

A bowl of greens and the usual suspects – cucumber, shredded carrots and tomatoes –can get ho-hum after a few repeats. Why not accessorize your salad with colorful, healthful add-ons that elevate it from a side dish to an entree? Some foodstuffs I frequently add to salads include:
  • Beans [eg, chick peas, edamame, black beans]
  • Grilled veggies [eg, eggplant or zucchini]
  • Thinly sliced onions [transforms a salad!]
  • Citrus [eg, clementines, orange or grapefruit sections]
  • Nuts or seeds, dry or toasted
  • Raisins; dried cranberries, apricots, or cherries
  • Fruit [eg, strawberries, grapes, blueberries, pears, apples, raspberries, pomegranate seeds]
  • Cooked or steamed veggies – a great use for leftovers [eg, mushrooms, asparagus. broccoli]
  • Ground flax seed – for omega 3s and nice nutty flavor
  • Baked or cooked tofu; cooked tempeh

Homemade dressings are simply the best. Hands down, they are tastier, not to mention cheaper, than most bottled dressings. Changing your dressings often helps keeps salads interesting.

Since I've been super busy lately, though, I have been leaning on store-bought dressings. I will say you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the proverbial prince. My observation is that all store-bought, low-fat dressings, frankly, suck. Buying the full-fat version and watering it down just a bit works better for me. Two store-bought dressings I really like [watered down a tad--they are too rich as is] are Genji Ginger-Miso and Whole Foods Ginger Sesame.

I used to routinely dress my salads with olive-oil based vinaigrettes, but my palate is a bit bored with this routine. Plus, I'm moving toward more healthful dressings with less oil. This said, finding champagne mangos on sale this week inspired this Mango-Mustard Dressing recipe.  It's sweet and tart – reminiscent of honey-mustard dressing, with the added benefit of natural sweetness, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, courtesy of Señorita Mango.

Mango-Mustard Salad Dressing [Low Fat]

1 cup fresh, ripe mango chunks
1 1/2 tsp tahini
2 T best-quality Dijon mustard [more or less, depending on your taste and the sweetness of the mangos]
2 T relish
About 2 T water
Salt, to taste [I used about 1 tsp]

Makes a healthy cup

Whiz everything in the food processor or blender until very smooth.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

my first vegan birthday card

What a year of firsts. A few days ago, F-Stop gave me my first vegan birthday cake. And now Violet has given me my first vegan birthday card [Cartoon by Mike Cappozola]. The times they are a-changing...

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

my big, fat vegan birthday and contest winner

The Glendale Motel, Glendale Nevada
Yesterday was my birthday. Yes, I'm 29 again, in case you're wondering – but I feel 25. Really.

Birthdays are no time to practice moderation. F-Stop took me out to dinner. We partied like rock stars, ate until we had no room left, and drank [too many] blood orange margaritas, among other libations. He also surprised me with a hauntingly arresting framed photograph that he made when we were in the Southwest last year. I have always loved this image – the lonesomeness and starkness of the old motel contrasted against that other-worldly iridescent sky. The creepy sense of this place being frozen in time and the voyeuristic feeling you get when you look at it. [Check out more of F-Stop's apocalyptic photos, which center on environmental issues and the mythologies of the Southwest, here.]

But the biggest surprise for me was the birthday cake F-Stop gave me. Not only was it the first time in my adult life that anyone had given me a birthday cake, other than at office birthday parties. But it was also the first time that anyone has given me a vegan cake, birthday or otherwise. I may be old. But I sure am lucky! [Update, 100612: Photo was lost when I transitioned to Google+ :(]

And so is the winner of the Good Karma Flax Milk contest: Bobbie from the Vegan Crew. Congrats, Bobbie, email me with your address.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

tomatoes stuffed with israeli couscous pilaf

Kumatoes are known for their dark flesh and big flavor. Stuffed with couscous? Even better.
During winter here in the Northeast, it's impossible to find a good tomato--which is normal if you're eating seasonal produce. But sadly, these days, uncovering a tomato that does not taste like pulp in any season is a rarity. When I was a kid, I snacked on tomatoes, just as I munched on apples and pears. Those farm-grown tomatoes were perfection: sweet, juicy with a slight acidic kick. They remain the standard against which I measure the flavor of all tomatoes.

I usually purchase local produce out of principle. But last week, a carton of imported, dark-fleshed kumatoes beckoned to me from the grocery aisle. They look like tomatoes with a suntan. I had never tried them, so I answered the produce sirens' call. Instead of the usual wallpaper paste flavor and texture of packaged tomatoes, one sweet bite rocket-blasted me back to my childhood tomatoes. Yes, they came all the way from Mexico, but the kumatoes tasted so delicious that honestly, I'd buy them again. [What can I say? I'm human.]

I probably could have eaten the entire carton unadorned in just one sitting. But the deep, burnished red fruits were so pretty that they begged to be transformed into something special. So I decided to stuff these little beauties with an Israeli couscous pilaf, flavored with typical Mediterranean seasonings – just the dose of sunshine this chilly Philly girl needed.

Serve the couscous pilaf as a side, or stuff any vegetable you like with it.
You can also serve the Israeli Couscous Pilaf as a side, or use it to stuff other veggies: think broiled mushroom caps, peppers, cucumbers, baby zucchini, etc. Recipes should be a springboard to your own creativity--not a rule to be followed blindly.

Please don't forget to enter the contest to win a carton of yummy, creamy flax milk. I'll announce the winner soon.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Israeli Couscous Pilaf
  • 1/2 cup Israeli couscous, dry
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth 
  • 4 tomatoes [Try kumatoes, if you can]
  • 3 kale leaves, very finely chopped
  • 1 tsp flax or olive oil
  • 1 tsp agave nectar or maple syrup
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • 3 T slivered, toasted almonds [Optional]
Serves 4 as a side

Cook couscous in vegetable broth al dente according to package directions. [Save vegetable broth when draining and reserve for soup or another use.]

Slice tops from tomatoes. Carefully scoop out middles, leaving about 1/4-inch tomato "wall" and turn upside-down to drain. Dice middles and tops, and set aside. Don't worry about the seeds.

Mix remaining ingredients, except almonds, in a casserole dish. Toss gently with the drained couscous and let sit for an hour or so in the refrigerator so the flavors can meld and infuse and "cook" the raw kale.

With a teaspoon, stuff each tomato with the couscous. Top with slivered almonds, if desired.

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