One Pot Wonder

It’s 100% summer here in the Lowcountry and that means a bounty of new ingredients and flavors to experiment with. As a nice Jewish girl from the north, cooking things like okra isn’t inherently natural to me, but I fell in love with the unique texture and flavor in college and since it’s so fresh locally, it’s hard to pass up at a roadside stand or farmer’s market. If you haven’t tried it, it almost has a green bean type flavor. However, what most people are put off by is the texture– it can be ‘slimy’ due to the mucilage that’s secreted upon slicing into it. Cooking it quickly at a high temperature combats this, but I like it low and slow — it’s a natural thickener and adds great body to this 1-pot-wonder. The okra starts to break down and melt in your mouth, and the flavors are just divine– a little bit of the south mixed with some Indian spices. Try this for a quick and easy weeknight dinner – it works well over rice/quinoa but also stands alone as a great stew.

 

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Curried Okra and Sweet Potatoes

1 medium onion, diced

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

About 30 pieces of okra

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Garam Masala (if you don’t have it, substitute equal parts nutmeg and cinnamon)

Curry Powder

Smoked Paprika

Salt/pepper

Vegetable stock

 

Sautee garlic and onions in olive oil in a wide, high-walled skillet for just about 3-4 minutes until they start to soften. Add in 2 teaspoons of curry powder and smoked paprika, combining until the onions take on an orangey-sunset glaze. Cook the spices down another minute or two and add in ½ tsp of garam masala and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the sweet potatoes and coat with the spices. Add in about ½ to ¾ of a box of vegetable stock- as much needed until the stock is about ½ inch higher than the potatoes- then drop in the okra. Briefly stir together then simmer (covered) for about 20 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed; add additional vegetable stock or water if the liquids have gotten low. Cook until the potatoes are soft.

 

 

Vegetarian Passover (part 1)

It’s been quite a spring, and between being wildly over scheduled (my fault) and having log-in issues to WordPress (I’ll blame someone else for that) my blogging took a Spring Break. That’s not to say we haven’t been eating some fabulous and ethically-friendly meals (my lentil ‘meatballs’ served double duty when we broke them up into marina sauce and had ‘meat sauce’ over pasta) but it was admittedly nice to take a breather from writing for a few weeks.

But we’re back now and with a topic so big it could fill 8 posts! Passover is the 8 day Jewish spring festival that commemorates the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt. If you’ve seen Prince of Egypt, you get the gist.

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What that means for us is 8 days without leavened items…although in 2014 quite a few steps have been taken through chemicals, food engineering, and creativity to allow for recipes that attempt to satisfy Jewish American’s standards while adhering to the religious rules and restrictions of the holiday. You can now find Kosher for Passover brownie mixes, cake mix, boxes of cereal, and pretty much anything you’d want to ‘survive’ the 8 days. While that’s all well and good for those who wish to spend hundreds on a week’s worth of groceries, have food labels with a font impossibly small to accommodate all of the unusual ingredients, and pump their bodies with unnecessary chemicals, we use this as a week to eat cleanly and kick start our bodies for the warmer months.

We first decided to become vegetarian during Passover 3 years ago. As such, this is only our 2nd year being vegetarian during Passover, and we love the challenge. The sum of it is that as an Ashkenazic Jew, you’re not able to eat any wheat, barley, corn, rice, beans, soy, or any products derived from those products. For a CliffNotes version, check out this BuzzFeed article for everything that’s prohibited and most typically craved! In recent years quinoa has been approved by even the most strict of rabbis, so quinoa and eggs are our primary source of protein for the week with potatoes fulfilling my starch cravings! In the coming days I’ll go into more depth about what we eat, including snacks and dessert (yes, you CAN eat dessert on Passover and it doesn’t have to taste like sawdust!)

The seder is the traditional festival meal that occurs on the first 2 nights of the holiday. It involves the telling of the story of the Exodus, the eating of certain foods that are reflective of our history (parsley dipped in salt water to remind us of the tears of slavery, haroset (a mixture of chopped apples and nuts) to remind us of the mortar used to build pyramids, and horseradish indicative of the way the Israelites’ lives were embittered by the Egyptians, to name a few), and a festive meal celebrated between family and friends. While we couldn’t take pictures due to the religious nature of the meal, here’s what we had on our table:

  • Thai Butternut Squash soup (we increased the amount of curry paste just a bit to give it more of a kick!)
  • Matzo Balls (S’s mom was nice enough to keep a few separate from the chicken soup so we could have them!)
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
    Combine 5 cooked sweet potatoes with 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 3 TBSP orange juice. Put in a baking dish and top with whole pecans, then place a few thin butter pats on top and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. Cook until warmed throughout and browned on top-the butter should be melted.
  • Kale and Quinoa Salad
    Mix the juice of 1 orange with 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle in approximately 1/4 cup of olive oil and either whisk to combine or shake in a tight-fitting lidded container until emulsified. In a large bowl, combine kale (destemmed, washed, and cut into small pieces) with 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Add in a handful of dried blueberries and a handful of pine nuts. Top with vinaigrette and toss to coat– let sit for at least 30 minutes to absorb all flavors.
  • Criss Cross Potatoes
    Cut baking potatoes in half lengthwise so that you have two shallow ‘boat’ shaped pieces per potato. Slice 1/4 inch deep into the flesh of the potato making 4-5 parallel slits going in the same direction, then make 4-5 more slits in the opposite direction so that you create a diamond pattern. In a small bowl, mix garlic powder and paprika into melted margarine/butter–amounts will vary depending on how many potatoes you’re making. Brush or spoon butter mixture onto cross-hatched potatoes and bake cut-side DOWN at 350 degrees until potatoes are cooked throughout.
  • Green Beans Almondine
    Saute slivered almonds in margarine (or butter, if you’re not keeping kosher) until toasted and set aside in a serving bowl. Steam green beans (preferably haricot verte) until tender but still crisp, then add to same serving bowl as almonds. Toss to coat and serve
  • Zippy Zucchini (we used the recipe from this page)
  • Mushroom Farfalle Kugel (made by a family friend, recipe unknown but DELICIOUS!)

There was chicken soup, turkey, brisket, and fish as well (for those who haven’t gone completely veggie yet), but otherwise the entire meal was vegetarian/vegan and everyone was full and happy. Dessert will come in another post (you won’t want to miss that!) but even before we moved on to sweets, the consensus around the table was one of extreme satisfaction. The best way to truly experience Passover is to enjoy what you’re eating and putting in your body- not feel like you’re suffering though the holiday. Once our people were slaves, but now we are free and most importantly, have the freedom of choice regarding our diets.

Chag Sameach and Shavua Tov!

Note: Due to our geographical limitations and personal religious/dietary priorities, we keep strictly Kosher for Passover in terms of the ingredients we eat and cook with. We do not require a Kosher for Passover hecsure on each product during Passover, only require that the ingredients themselves are kosher to eat during Passover. We did have seder at S’s mom’s house, and she keeps completely Kosher, so for the purposes of these recipes everything was pareve.

Making Something Out of Nothing

It’s been a L.O.N.G. week that was emotionally, spiritually, and physically draining. And as a result, something occurred that doesn’t happen often–our fridge is quite barren. With D out of the house tonight, I was on my own for dinner and was taken back to the days of cooking for one!

It’s also been 40 degrees and raining for the entire week, when normally in SC it’s in the 60’s and sunny, so things are pretty dreary. And with dreary and exhaustion comes soup… naturally! Soup is one of my favorite meals because it’s so easy to throw something together, it tastes differently every time, and because if you don’t like it, you can always doctor it as you go to make it what you want. Tonight’s soup actually started as a broccoli cheddar bisque, but after I smelled the onions and mushrooms together I knew it was headed in an entirely different direction and am thrilled with the way it turned out! Plus, it was the perfect way to use some produce that had seen better days, but I’d hate to let go to waste!

Broccoli and Asparagus Soup with Barley

-1/2 large onion, diced
-10 baby portobella mushrooms, cleaned WELL and diced
-dried sage
-garlic powder
-1 quart (32 oz) vegetable broth
-1 head broccoli, washed and cut into small pieces
-1/2 bunch of asparagus, washed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
-1/4 cup barley

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or deep saucepan and saute onions with salt and pepper (medium heat) until they soften. Add in the diced mushrooms and sprinkle the pan with garlic powder and sage–about 1 tsp each. Cook until the mushrooms have reduced in size by at least half–they’ll start to release the water that makes up the volume of the mushroom and that’s when it’ll start smelling great!

Once the onions and mushrooms are soft, add in the vegetable stock, broccoli, and asparagus. Cook on medium-high heat until the broccoli and asparagus are easily pierced with a fork. Bring the soup to a boil and add in the barley, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the barley is soft and chewy and the flavors have come together. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Oh my goodness, holy soup heaven! I had 2 bowls of this VEGAN amazingness-it’s chock full of veggies and broth (versus a cream base) but the heartiness of the mushrooms and barley makes it quite filling and satisfying. The beauty of soup is that it freezes well, so if you’re cooking for 1 (or even 2!) you can freeze leftovers and don’t necessarily have to eat the same thing for multiple days. However, I can’t wait for leftovers of this healthy and delicious soup tomorrow– although lunch in the office won’t be the same as curling up on the couch in sweatpants with a warm bowl and a lazy puppy! 

Snow Day Experiments

SC is undergoing a rare snow-week — when a friend mentioned last week that temperatures were going to drop this week, I figured we were in for another brutally cold week with wind. Admittedly, the Lowcountry’s definition of ‘brutal’ is anything below 35 for more than a few days, but after living down here for 8 years, my blood has most certainly thinned to the point that 50’s still feels cool. On Monday afternoon they made the decision to cancel work/school for Tuesday, and before noon on Tuesday they had closed for Wednesday. After sub-32 temperatures for 3 nights, there are delays and cancellations for Thursday too. While we were safe at home with plenty of food, there’s a certain cabin-fever that sets in and I was itching to doing something besides clean and lazy on the couch. Below is what caused this mass chaos:

This little dusting wreaked so much havoc in the Lowcountry!

This little dusting wreaked so much havoc in the Lowcountry!

As I said earlier this year, my new years resolution is to try more new recipes– to take a risk, learn something new, and let someone guide me in the kitchen who has made the end result before. (Perhaps I should have added in there to keep up with the blog more often?) This 2.5 day midweek break seemed like a good time to use up some ingredients from around the house, keep myself sane, and fulfill any cravings we got in the ‘storm’ when we couldn’t leave. Southerners just aren’t able to handle icy roads – they’re not usually taught how to drive on them and even if they were (as I was), most cities don’t have the infrastructure to dispatch salt trucks and plows to all public roads. As such, we’ve essentially been on lockdown since noon on Tuesday! Luckily, as my husband put it, “We have provisions for weeks!” My retort was that we always have provisions and it just happens to be poor weather, but regardless, here’s how we kept ourselves busy and full:

4-Bean Chili with Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
1/2 cup EACH of your favorite beans- we used black eyed peas, black beans, kidney beans, and Navy beans
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 small onion, diced
2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes (you can also use any canned tomatoes you have, we just like the flavor of fire-roasted)
4 ounces of finely diced tempeh
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 tsp chili powder or chipotle powder, your choice
1 tsp allspice (optional)
1 cup vegetable broth, as needed

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and cover with enough vegetable broth to reach about 1/2 inch above the beans. Cook on high for 2 hours, then reduce to low for at least 4 hours. Check periodically to make sure there’s enough liquid– add more broth if not. The end result and consistency will be your choice.

Serve with jalapeno cheddar cornbread for a filling and warm meal on a cold day. We cooked the cornbread in a cast iron skillet, which was not only a fun presentation, but gave the perfect crusty exterior and soft, fluffy inside. Note: we used dried jalapenos that we re-hydrated in warm water. We found the heat mellows in the drying process, so we used 4-5 dried jalapenos and probably could have used 2-3 more. Adjust to your taste preference. The chili freezes really well for leftovers later in the winter!

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Instead of our usual eggs/potatoes breakfast, I made D hold off one morning while I made biscuits. After a recent girls trip to Savannah, I was craving fluffy and buttery buttermilk biscuits. I also knew we were stuck at home for a few days and thus couldn’t work out. My compromise was almond flour biscuits instead of white AP flour, and they were AWESOME with some blackberry/raspberry jam. We did them as drop biscuits instead of formed, and the little crunchy parts on top were my favorite part! Brings back memories of my dad making biscuits on snowy winter days and all of us trying to eat them off the baking sheet before they’d even cooled! (no photos, sorry! Ours looked very much like the one on the website with the recipe)

The biggest challenge was my sudden craving for Thai food (I fear pregnancy cravings if I have such drastic ones now without being pregnant!) We don’t have a truly authentic place in SC on a normal day, and I certainly wasn’t going to get anything decent in the midst of a ‘storm.’ As such, I took to the internet and did the best I could with what we had in the house, and honestly, I’m pretty proud of what resulted.

Despite my intentions to cook off of a recipe, for certain logistical reasons (aka not wanting to leave the house when there’s 1/4 inch of solid ice on the roads) I just couldn’t on this one. I did follow this Thai Basil Eggplant recipe closely, with the following modifications:

-I used 1 large white onion instead of red onion
-I added 1 sliced green pepper when sauteing the onions -it gave more volume to the recipe and I really like peppers in my Thai
-I skipped the red chilis but did add in a dash of Sambal to the sauce
-I used regular/Italian eggplants that you find at the grocery store — wasn’t running out to the store for Chinese/Japanese eggplants!
-we served over rice noodles, not rice

The biggest thing I learned from this recipe was the addition of cornstarch- without sounding like I have the culinary tastes of a college student, it gave this dish the ‘gloppy’ feeling typically associated with take-out food. However, since it was made from scratch with a ton of veggies, I knew it was good for us! There was a really good balance of spice, freshness from the basil, and creaminess of the sauce. Plus, over the rice noodles, it had a more elegant feel than typical take-out– I honestly don’t have a problem with take-out entrees, but when it’s put over dry white rice, it tends to put a damper on what would otherwise be a good meal. Another great alternative is bean thread noodles, which can be found at your local grocery store or Asian store. We’re lucky enough to have one here in Charleston and their noodle aisle is mesmerizing. If you’ve never tried rice/bean noodles before, pick up a pack and try them in lieu of rice – they’re quick to cook, less dense than rice, and give many dishes a more authentic feel.

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What recipe have you always had trouble getting just right? What’s the recipe you’re most scared to try? Let’s make 2014 the year that we conquer new challenges and add more recipes to our repertoire! Up next I have mujadara and shakshuka!

Coco-grass Curry Soup with Tofu

There are times where you just can’t shake the craving for a certain flavor profile. In our house, it was the warm, spicy, and sinus-clearing taste of red curry– but we wanted to mellow it out a bit. Our lemongrass plant goes into winter-mode in the next week or so and we weren’t ready to part with the beautiful stalks, so we went for a Thai-inspired coconut curry soup with lemongrass, lime, and tofu.

delicious on a cool day- transports you to SE Asia!

delicious on a cool day- transports you to SE Asia!

Coco-grass Curry Soup with Tofu 

2 tablespoons coconut oil, or vegetable oil
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
5-6 stalks of lemongrass (4-5 inches each) plus (optional) lemongrass leaves — all washed
2 tsp red curry paste
1/2 pound washed and diced baby portobella mushrooms
3-4 cups of vegetable broth
1 tsp soy sauce or fish sauce (if you’re not being vegetarian)
1 15-oz can of light coconut milk
1 pound pressed and diced firm tofu
lime juice, to taste
salt to taste

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan (like a dutch oven) and saute ginger, lemongrass stalks (but not leaves), and curry paste just until flavors combine- make sure the curry doesn’t burn. Stir in mushrooms and stir to coat in the ginger/curry mixture, then add in the vegetable broth and soy sauce/fish sauce. Let the temperature of the broth come up to a simmer, add in the leaves of the lemongrass, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add in the coconut milk and stir, then gently add tofu. Cook another 10 minutes on low to let flavors combine. Remove lemongrass and add in lime juice. Serve over rice or rice noodles.

Smooth and spicy, this soup is everything you could want. It gets better with time, so save enough for leftovers- you’ll want it later! With the mushrooms and tofu, it’s hearty and filling, but the lemongrass keeps it light. The coconut adds sweetness and creaminess, but the lime gives a punch. We can’t wait to make this again, especially before we lose our lemongrass for the winter. With such a diverse group of flavors, I promise you won’t miss the meat! If you do eat seafood, replace the tofu with shrimp for an authentic version.

The newest fun addition to the Vegetarian For Two kitchen is a wedding gift from our friend Michelle. This beautiful wooden cutting board was personalized for us and since it’s too pretty to cut on, will be the new backdrop for many recipes to come. Thanks Michelle!

cutting board

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What We’ve Been Eating

Sincerest apologizes for the delayed absence, but we tied the knot last week and have been busy with wedding bliss (and reality–newlyweds still have to do laundry, much to my dismay!) Our wedding featured a completely vegetarian menu that we were quite proud of, and which had many friends and attendees exclaiming that “I could be vegetarian if it means eating like this!” This is what it’s all about–spreading awareness and sharing the tasty delights of vegetarian cooking, and reminding people that it’s about savoring what you CAN eat and why it is delicious and better for you, instead of harping on what you cannot have. A full write-up of our vegetarian menu is in the works, but until then, here’s what has been keeping us full in the VegetarianForTwo kitchen the past few weeks:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

We added roasted squash and pumpkin seeds to the top for some texture and as a fun garnish– wash seeds well after removing from your squash of choice. Let sit on a towel for at least an hour, or in a colander for 3-4 hours, to remove the water. Spray a baking sheet with oil, spread seeds evenly, then top with salt and curry powder. Top with a light coat of oil, then bake at 200-250 degrees for about an hour until light brown and crisp. Makes a great snack!

butternut squash soup

Palak Tofu (also called Saag Tofu)

There are a million recipes out there for Palak Tofu (a seasoned Indian dish of slow cooked spinach with either tofu or paneer cheese), but regardless of your favorite, we just HAVE to share this new favorite technique for cooking tofu in dishes where you want it to hold its texture but don’t want to deep fry it!

Cut a piece of PRESSED tofu into the desired shape and size for the recipe at hand. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a cookie sheet with oil or PAM. While its preheating, add a few tablespoons of cornstarch to a medium bowl. Add seasonings that reflect the recipe you’re making (for Palak Tofu, we used curry powder and garam masala) and stir throughout–you should have about a 4:1 ratio of cornstarch to spices. Dredge the tofu pieces in the cornstarch and shake off the excess before laying on the baking sheet. Spray with a final mist of oil to ensure browning. Cook for about 25-35 minutes (depending on the size of the tofu) or until the edges of the tofu are crispy and brown– the tofu should LOOK deep fried. When tasting, it should range from mushy in the middle to crunchy like a crouton, depending on your preference. Voila– “Deep Fried” tofu without any of the oil, calories, or mess! We served our Palak Tofu atop a bed of quinoa and with some naan on the side to sop up the extra sauce!

palak tofu

Zucchini Peanut Noodles with Tofu and Mushrooms

We wanted a pre-wedding dinner that was light on the carbohydrates, so we made ‘noodles’ out of a zucchini (we used a mandolin, but by hand is fine as long as they’re thinly sliced) and let them sit for about 30 minutes over a towel to release some of their natural water. We then marinated tofu and mushrooms in a mixture of soy/hoisin/rice wine vinegar and a little bit of vegan Worcestershire (seasonings to taste). We mixed up a sauce of peanut butter, soy sauce, and other favorite Asian flavors, then tossed the ‘noodles’ in the sauce to let sit while quickly stirfrying the tofu and mushrooms. Mixed all together, it was a great hot meal and we definitely didn’t miss the pasta!

peanut zucchini noodles

Tri-Pesto Pizza

We got a pizza stone and wooden pizza peel for the wedding and were very excited to try out pizza at home with the proper equipment! With summer weather coming to an end, we wanted to savor one of our favorite summer flavors–basil! This tri-pesto pizza has a pesto base, pesto marinated tofu, and a deconstructed pesto topping–pine nuts and parmesean cheese! Topped with some goat cheese and fresh basil, this was perfect for an indulgent carb-fest after the wedding! Next time, we would recommend cooking the tofu separately from the pizza, then adding the pre-cooked tofu atop the pizza to ensure sufficient crunch. Yummmmmmmm basil!

Pesto Pizza

Vegetarian Chili over Spaghetti Squash

One of the best go-to meals in the cooler months is a hearty vegetarian chili– you can make it with your favorite combinations of beans, protein sources (we like crumbled tempeh and soy crumbles to act as ground beef), and whatever veggies you fancy. Stick it in a CrockPot or in a large soup pot for a few hours and freeze for easy weeknight dining when you don’t have time to cook! To cut the carbs, wash a spaghetti squash, cut lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, then bake (cut side down) for about 30-40 minutes. Pull apart the flesh with a fork-it will look like long strands of spaghetti (thus the name!) and top with chili and your favorite toppings. A quick weeknight dinner that’s hearty, healthy, and carb-conscious without missing any of the meat!

spaghetti squash with chili

Rainy Day Soup

Charleston is going through an early monsoon season, and this week’s rain came with a 15 degree temperature drop. After my big work event on Sunday I felt myself getting sick, so this week has been full of juice, tea, and advil. That wasn’t quite enough to do the trick, so after seeing a recipe for white bean stew on such a cold, rainy week, I spontaneously stopped by the grocery store on the way home from work and grabbed some ingredients to make GET WELL SOUP!

Get well soup!

Get well soup!

Garlicy White Bean Soup, Based on Sarah Britton’s recipe

We rarely follow a recipe to the T but this one sounded so good I had to trust Sarah. We spiced it up in the following ways, but I believe it would be just as good as is!

-add a dash of curry powder and a dash of cumin when you saute the onions

-add an additional 1-2 teaspoons of smoked paprika in Step 2 (smoked paprika is NOT the same as paprika and will be the best investment to your pantry you can make when you’re vegetarian!)

-add slices of okra in Step 2

-add fresh spinach leaves in Step 2

-instead of serving drizzled with olive oil, top with grated Parmesan

OH MY. The combination of the coconut oil and smoked paprika right from the start gave off the aroma typically associated with rendering down bacon or beef fat (I literally looked at D and asked if he smelled bacon) and those flavors carried through the rest of the soup. The broth is smoky and sweet, and the vegetables throughout are refreshing and add some depth to the soup. We threw in some local okra and spinach from our CSA bag, and I love the extra texture and nutrition it added. The beans are soft and absorb the broth and each bite offers new flavors and textures.

Smoky, sweet, and healthy-- perfect solution for a cold week

Smoky, sweet, and healthy– perfect solution for a cold week

Next week is our first ‘normal’ week in months and on Sunday I’ll share our weekly menu plan for the coming days. What would you like to see VegetarianForTwo cover next week?