Stuffed and Smothered Roll-Ups

Life is busy. Despite our best intentions, there are weeks where we are just ‘off’ our game and we eat leftovers more than we’d like, we succumb to edamame mac, or we put together some mismatched items to get a meal on the table. The low point of this week was veggie hot dogs with kale salad, which was for all intentions uninspiring, but the salad was too good to keep secret. We put my favorite ginger salad dressing from Japanese restaurants on kale! This dressing is my guilty indulgence but I always feel horribly eating it on wilted iceberg, so this was the perfect way to feel good about eating tablespoons of the tangy, gingery, and tart stuff. We replaced the miso paste with soy sauce, but I’m sure it would be just as good with the miso. Before serving, massage the dressing into the kale to help wilt the kale and make it a little easier to eat.

IMAG1296The REAL gem from this week, however, was a complete experimentation. We had a few eggplant in the fridge and were craving some good Italian, but didn’t want anything too pasta-heavy. This take on manicotti is not only fun to make, but healthy and a fantastic make-ahead meal for those busy weeknight dinners! Plus, if done the way we did, it’s actually completely vegan!

Stuffed and Smothered Roll-Ups

1/2 package firm tofu, pressed to remove as much liquid as possible
2 small eggplants
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh basil
2 cups marinara sauce (either jarred or fresh)
1 box lasagna noodles, boiled 6-8 minutes until al dente, not completely cooked

Cut eggplants in half length-wise and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 until the flesh is soft and pulls away from the purple skin, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, then scrape eggplant flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Add in tofu, garlic, parsley, and basil, plus salt and pepper. Pulse until combined into a paste, then taste– adjust and add any dried oregano, Italian seasoning, or other flavors to taste.

Take 3-4 pre-cooked lasagna noodles and lay them flat on a cutting board. Cut them in half to create pieces approximately 1.5 inches by 4 inches. Scoop out a teaspoon of the filling and place on one end, then roll the noodle over the filling and towards the other end, creating a tunnel of the noodle wrapped around the filling (see photos below). Lay each roll-up in a baking dish that has a few spoonfuls of marinara on the bottom. When the dish is full, ladle marinara over the top. Either bake immediately or cover with plastic wrap and foil- will keep for 2 days in the fridge or up to a few weeks in the freezer. When ready to bake, cook at 350 degrees until bubbling.
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These roll-ups are absolutely amazing. They’re everything you love about Italian food, but with the protein of the tofu and the eggplant hidden inside. And while you could add in some Parmesan to the filling or on top of the baking dish, these really don’t need it! They’re creamy from the pureed eggplant and tofu, savory, and sweet from the marinara. You don’t miss the ricotta, I promise – just taste the fresh vegetables and herbs. Plus, the noodles give them some carbs without the overload of typical Italian food. Try these next weekend and save a batch in the freezer for later in the winter– you won’t be disappointed!

Coming Up Next: Review of Lettuce Turnip the Beet vegan pop-up dinner at Butcher & Bee in Charleston, SC

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<3 Officially Vegetarian for Two–Vegged Bliss <3

Soon after D and I got engaged, we set having a vegetarian wedding as one of our top priorities. Despite the many variations of our wedding that emerged in the 9 months between engagement and our wedding (I think we are ALL glad that my ‘paper plates and plastic glasses’ phases was short lived), our insistence on vegetarian food never wavered. When we found a local non-veggie restaurant with a vegan chef, we immediately headed over for dinner with my mom and D’s dad and step-mom to check out their menu, and were treated to a mini-impromptu tasting right there in the middle of our dinner! D and I looked at one another and said “this is it!”

The most rewarding thing about our vegetarian wedding, other than it was true to us as a couple, was how many people came up to us at the reception (and afterwards) and honestly said “if more food was like this, I would eat vegetarian every day!” We were so proud to be able to offer our guests- family, friends, and loved ones- this unique opportunity and only regret that it’s not done justice in photos!

On that note, here’s a walk through our wedding menu. Thanks to Jennifer Bearden Photography for the appetizer photos! (I apologize for the later pictures, they’re from our tasting and we were too excited to eat to take quality photos!) and to Mosiac Edibles and Luke Wilson for making our wedding absolutely fantastic!

Stationary Display of Appetizers

Vegan Spring Rolls
with cabbage, julienne carrots, zucchini and squash with a hoisin-peanut dipping sauce

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Brie in Mini Phyllo Cups
with strawberry-rhubarb jam

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Marinated Stuffed Mushrooms
balsamic marinated button mushrooms stuffed with herbed goat, feta, and cream cheese, then roasted

(sadly, these were our favorites but we didn’t capture any photos of them!)

Mini Spanakopita
greek pastry of spinach and cheese in layers of phyllo dough

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Cream of Cauliflower Soup
with grated Parmesan cheese and basil-chive oil

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Dinner Buffet

Butter Thyme Green Beans
with butter and fresh herbs

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Farro Medley
with spinach, artichokes, and red peppers

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Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
oven roasted with cavatappi pasta, light gorgonzola cream sauce & a pretzel Parmesan crust

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Eggplant Rollatini
with feta, artichokes, & spinach with tomato cream sauce

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Fall Kale+Spinach Salad
with grilled bosc pears, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, cranberries, and topped with a balsamic vinaigrette

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Trio of:

Spinach & Sundried Tomato Quiche
with shaved Parmesan & local micro greens

Gruyere & Parmesan Quiche
with local micro greens

Roasted Broccoli Quiche
with aged cheddar & local micro greens

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Lettuce Turnip the Beet

D and I had a fantastic date night tonight at one of Butcher and Bee‘s Lettuce Turnip the Beet dinner. We’ve been meaning to get to one for a few months now and the timing just hasn’t worked out, so we jumped at the opportunity. One of our favorite veggie-friendly restaurants goes entirely vegetarian (with plenty of vegan options) for 1 night every few months and it’s fantastic–all of their produce and products are local, so it’s a feel good meal all around!

We didn’t exchange many words besides “mmmmm” and “did you TASTE this”, so I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

Eggplant "meat" balls

Eggplant “meat” balls

Potato and Chickpea Vindaloo with Carolina gold rice

Potato and Chickpea Vindaloo with Carolina gold rice

Roasted Zucchini with gremalota

Roasted Zucchini with gremalota

Carmelized okra with ginger tomato sauce

Carmelized okra with ginger tomato sauce

By far our favorite was the ‘meat’ balls— for you meat lovers, imagine the softest and most break-apart meatball you’ve ever had. The texture was fantastic, the flavors are incredible, and it simply smelled like the best of Italy. I could spend weeks trying to replicate these and may never, but I’ll let you know if I do! 😉

The okra was a close second–the ginger and tomato together was a tangy combo, and the sweetness of the charred and caramelized okra was an amazing contrast to that. We ate past our stomachs’ capacity just to avoid leaving any on the plate!

The zucchini was fresh and light, and knowing it came from the Lowcountry was the icing on the cake. Lowcountry produce is just bursting with the freshness from the ocean and emanates the strong SC sun the second you bite into it. With fresh herbs, it was a really bright dish.

Indian food hasn’t been the same since D and I went to Vij last summer in Vancouver so we were excited to try BB’s version of vindaloo. The second it appeared on the butcher block table it was the only thing we could smell, which is always a good sign! It was a bounty of chickpeas and potatoes over Carolina gold rice (a variety previously ‘lost’ and revitalized in the 80’s) with an incredibly flavorful sauce and fresh cilantro. By the time we got to the vindaloo we were stuffed, so we get to enjoy the leftovers again later this weekend!

D summed up the meal by saying “I challenge any person who says that they can’t have a filling and satisfying meal without meat to go and eat that.” Probably our favorite part of the dinner was that there wasn’t a single meat-substitute used– they let the vegetables be the star of the meal and it truly paid off.  Don’t be afraid to eat a meal without a traditional ‘protein’ at the center of the dish, because as proven tonight, vegetables CAN rule the plate!

Better late than never– baba ghanoush and summer stromboli

Vacation seems to throw everything off kilter, and no matter how long I’m gone for or where I go, I seem to need a vacation from my vacation!

D and I headed up to DC for the week to visit family, and while I won’t reveal my mom’s tried-and-true recipes, I DO want to share my new favorite place in the DC metro area. Yuan Fu is a place I drove by multiple times a week growing up and never considered as an option– why would I when I had ‘regular’ Chinese options?! After eating just 3 dishes, I can honestly say I wish I had known about this place years ago– it feels healthier both consciously and dining-wise, and I tried things I never would have considered before! Check out Yuan Fu next time you’re in the area– we got the Peking Duck, Sesame Beef, and the Triple Crispy Delight. Don’t be confused by the names–they name things using meat names to keep it simple.

Before we headed out on vacation though, we experimented with 2 new ways to use up the abundance of home-grown eggplant that are taking over the back yard so we wouldn’t come back to life-sized produce!  We didn’t create any recipes for these, but check out an amazing baba ghanoush recipe (a great car snack with pita and baby carrots!) and our stromboli with fresh garden vegetables. Instead of ham we used the roasted eggplant and some fresh basil from the garden, then our homemade sauce instead of anything canned; the pizza dough was homemade. Both were fantastic and didn’t require much prep work–you could even do the eggplant in advance and prep everything else the night you’re ready to eat!

Moving forward this week we have grilled jerk tofu with grilled pineapple and corn, sauteed mushrooms and brown rice, and some extra-speedy dinners to accommodate a busy week!

Do in advance:

Slice and salt eggplant and leave to sit for a few hours

Slice and salt eggplant and leave to sit for a few hours

What your eggplant should look like after resting

What your eggplant should look like after resting, before being roasted in the oven/grill

Day-of preparations:

Use your favorite marina sauce or make it from scratch -- ours has tempeh instead of ground beef

Use your favorite marina sauce or make it from scratch — ours has tempeh instead of ground beef

Our finished stromboli-- delicious!

Our finished stromboli– delicious! Add some grated Parmesan over the top for some extra salt!