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Midsummer Corn Chowder

Midsummer Corn Chowder

I grew up in a climate where the constant threat of frost or snow from May – August prevented abundant crops. In fact, the only thing that we could successfully grow was rhubarb. Thus, when I first read through Veganomicon (like a novel, as one should do with a new cookbook), I was instantly filled with awe and wonder at the recipe entitled Midsummer Corn Chowder. The description starts with the line “This soup just screams “I just came back from the Farmer’s Market! Look at my bulging canvas sack!””, and the concept of being able to buy corn, tomatoes, basil, and fennel at the farmer’s market in the middle of summer was so completely foreign to me I thought they were making it up. So imagine my joy and excitement when I came back from my weekly CSA share last week (admittedly mid-September) with a bulging backpack of corn, heirloom tomatoes, basil, onions, and other goodies! I had arrived at that mythical land, and so I knew I had to make this chowder.

I will admit I have never had “real” corn chowder before, due to my corn issues, but since I have somewhat overcome them with the Chickpea Pastel de Choclo, I thought I was ready to tackle the chowder. Although calling mid-September “midsummer” is a bit of a stretch, I kept to the spirit of the recipe and adapted it to accommodate my bulging backpack of CSA vegetables. To the soup I added zucchini (last of the season), collard greens, and extra carrots (to make up for lack of celery. To this day growing celery is a bit of a mystery to me). I am not a jet setter, but I am lazy, so I didn’t make the corn stock as suggested. Instead, I simmered the soup with the corn cobs and the top of the fennel fronds, which added a nice depth to the stock. I did have to buy potatoes and fennel to complete the dish, but that’s not too bad! I also modified the cooking instructions slightly: Instead of sautéing in oil, I sautéed the vegetables using water. I have discovered that if you add the onions to the pan with a splash of water and cover, it lets them sweat and caramelize way better than if you use oil. To prevent sticking, add splashes of water periodically. I did this technique for all the vegetables, resulting in caramelized garlic, onions, and fennel which added smoky depth and deliciousness. The soup is simply seasoned with the fresh basil and dried thyme – no additional seasonings required! Let the fresh produce shine through. I did add a healthy splash of Habanero Hot Sauce, because the habaneros also came from the garden and I didn’t want them to be neglected.

The end result is a surprisingly light stew that does scream “farmer’s market bulging sack of goodies”. Fresh and vibrant, it is worth turning the stove on if it’s +30dC, or it will remind you of the fleeting days of summer if it’s mid-September and pumpkin season is just around the corner. Delicious, creamy, and vibrant, I believe this soup has terminated my corn-issues for good! Reminisce of the fleeting days of summer and honour your farmer’s market haul.

(Note: the soup freezes wonderfully, so if you are like me and enthusiastically waiting for pumpkin season and thoroughly sick of summer produce, make this soup fresh today, then save the leftovers for December, when all you want is a garden-fresh zucchini.)

The recipe can be found on page 144 of Veganomicon, or in the Google Book Preview here: Midsummer Corn Chowder with Basil, Tomato, and Fennel

 


Mixed Grain Beet Pesto Risotto

Mixed Grain Beet Pesto Risotto

Sometimes I wonder if too much of the Food Network is a bad thing. And then creativity inspires me to create this dish, which on paper looks odd and disjointed at best, but in the mouth is creamy and delicious and bursting with “Summer is Here!” flavour. My first CSA share was a bit of a mishmash, and came with lots of bits and bobs – enough to not want to eat them all raw in salads, but not enough to make a dish highlighting the ingredients. As this summer I am addicted to re-runs of Top Chef and Chopped, I thought that I’d host my own little culinary challenge with my basket. The ingredients:

– Beets (3 small)

– Garlic Scrapes

– Basil

– Cilantro

– Beans

– Radish

– Kale

Granted, all of them could work well together in a myriad of ways – the challenge was the quantity! Tasters of each, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

I adore mixed grains in a risotto/pilaf dish. Because each grain has a slightly different cooking time, the result is a chewy, creamy mouthful of goodness. This dish started out as a pilaf, but when I added the pesto mixture there was too much liquid, so it became a risotto. Quite possibly the easiest risotto ever – no stirring required! (Take that, Tom Colicchio). To the CSA offerings I added cauliflower and red onion – that’s it! The radishes were going to be incorporated, but I ate them all before the dish was born. For good measure, the radish greens made it in though. Radish greens are like dandelion greens, and quite bitter – I am addicted.

I had pre-roasted the beets as an experiment, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. By all means – go ahead if it’s cool enough to turn the oven on. I thought that the roasting quality got lost in the bright risotto, and the pre-cooked beets turned the risotto purple quite quickly. I think next time what I’ll do is leave the beets raw, and grate them on top for garnish. This would make the beet flavour more prominent, add another crunch level, and *hopefully* decrease the beet stain of the risotto!

Regardless, this dish is exceptional. Fancy enough to serve to company, delicious and decadent, I give myself a score of 10! Now where’s the Chopped auditions …

 

Mixed Grain Beet Pesto Risotto

¼ cup barley

½ cup buckwheat

½ cup rice

½ cup wild rice

½ cup red onion, sliced into quarters

¼ tsp. dried thyme

1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets (approx. 4½ cups)

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil (if short, make up difference with fresh cilantro)

1½ tsp. garlic, minced (or 3 garlic scrapes, chopped)

1¼ cup green beans, cut in 1” pieces

½ cup roasted beets, cut into wedges*

1½ cup fresh kale

salt, pepper to taste

*To roast beets, wash beets and place whole in tinfoil packet. Roast at 375dF for 40min-1h, or until just tender.

 

Directions:

1) In large pot, sauté onion in ¼ cup water until translucent, approx. 5min.

2) Add barley, buckwheat, rice, wild rice, and 6 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and simmer approx. 25min., stirring occasionally.

3) In large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add thyme and cauliflower. Cover and cook until cauliflower tender, approx. 10min.

4) Remove cauliflower from heat and let cool slightly. Puree contents of cauliflower pot with basil and garlic until silky smooth.

5) Add cauliflower mixture to grains. Stir.

6) Add beans to mixture. Stir, cover, and let simmer approx. 5min., or until beans just tender.

7) Add beets, kale. Stir.

8) Adjust for seasonings. Turn off heat and let sit 10min.

9) Stir and serve!

 


Chickpea Pastel de Choclo

Chickpea Pastel de Choclo

When I first flipped through Viva Vegan! by Terry Hope Romero, I had significant difficulty choosing which recipe to try first. From the sheer volume of posts regarding this cookbook, it’s quite clear that I’m slowly making progress, and loving every delicious morsel. One recipe that was initially tagged as a “hm. that’s interesting” recipe was Chickpea Pastel de Choclo. Pastel de Choclo is a Chilean shepherd’s pie, but with a pureed fresh corn topping instead of the mashed potatoes. This particular version uses crumbled tempeh or chickpeas instead of meat, and retains all other flavours of the original.

What made me hesitant about this dish at first was that it includes raisins, green olives, and corn. Three ingredients that I go out of my way to avoid. Put them together? Apocalypse now, baby! Buoyed by all the other successes of Viva Vegan!, I put my faith in Terry one Saturday and tried it out. This very well be my favourite dish of the cookbook thus far! The raisins and olives marry together in a subtly sweet/salty combo that is nothing like I’ve ever tasted before. The other seasonings of oregano, cumin, and paprika round out the stew filling, making the filling utterly irresistible – a definite repeat by itself! I don’t know what sort of magic happens when these ingredients combine in the pot, but it has encouraged me to not be so hasty on judging the demure raisin.

The other real surprise of the dish is the corn topping. I used frozen corn making the topping method that much easier. Thawed kernels are pureed with garlic, salt, pepper, cornstarch, and a heavy cream. I used Almond Breeze, and it worked wonderfully. After the food processor works its magic, you’re left with something that looks like gruel. A quick simmer to thicken the topping (similar to Burmese Tofu), the addition of fresh basil, and it’s ready to pour over the filling. The fresh basil adds such punch to the pie as a whole; it complements the raisin/olive filling wonderfully. The pureed corn topping gets a nice browned crunch layer once baked – something I could never achieve with mashed potatoes. Overall, this dish was a pleasant surprise, and a nice departure from the spicy Latin dishes one comes to expect. It opened my eyes to new flavour combinations, and once again opened my kitchen to the glorious cuisine of Chile. I was greatly rewarded with my choice to expand my culinary horizons – I will remember this deliciousness the next time I see an ingredient list that makes me go “ick”!

The recipe can be found in Viva Vegan! on pg. 144-145, or on Google Book Preview here.

 


Green Thai Curry

Green Thai Curry

This green Thai curry is a staple. Once you make it, you will crave it. It has also successfully proven to self-professed tofu-haters that tofu shouldn’t be pronounced with a wrinkled nose. (Try not to gloat when they go for seconds!) The green Thai curry paste is made fresh and is very easy: just throw everything into a food processor. The heady combination of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, and heat from the hot chilis (to taste) win me over every time. The fresh cilantro is a must – it brings spring to the dish. I prefer ginger in this recipe to galangal as I think it matches better with the acid from the lemongrass and lime juice, but that is completely my preference. The best part about this recipe is that even though the list of ingredients looks very long, you probably have most of it already in your pantry, and since most of it goes into the food processor, clean-up is easy and cooking time is much shorter than you’d expect. This curry goes well with rice or vermicelli, but I won’t stop you from eating it straight up like soup!
After many trials and numerous iterations of this dish, I have compiled these rules of thumb for guaranteed success:

1) Sautéing the fresh curry paste makes all the difference. Like dry roasting spices for Indian curries, this is when the lemongrass and heat really start to come out. Once fragrant, you will have to have serious restraint from not eating the sauce as is!

2) When you add the tofu to soak up all the curry paste flavour, add the eggplant as well. Double the flavour with two different textures!

3) Usually I add all the coconut milk to the food processor to help the paste come together. If you have a better food processor than I, you could probably proceed with the recipe as-written. I find though that if I don’t add the extra liquid, I could do a better job making a paste by chopping things finely than my food processor.

4) If you don’t have coconut milk on hand, I’ve recently discovered that almond milk makes an amazing substitute! I am sure curry purists around the world have just gotten very angry with me, but when you need some Green Thai Curry a little matter of no coconut milk won’t stop me! This successful trial makes me believe that rice milk or hemp milk would also make for excellent substitutions.

5) The best suited vegetables for this dish are:
– Eggplant: A must!
– Zucchini: So lovely and tender
– One or more crunchy green vegetable such as green beans, snap peas, bell pepper, or asparagus
– A leafy green such as bok choy (spinach will also work)
– Cherry tomatoes: Or as I like to call them, Tomato Bombs of Flavour.

6) Add the cherry tomatoes at the very very end – with your greens. The “cherry bomb” in your mouth is so worth the restraint!

7) If you can find them, the kaffir lime leaves are a must. I store them in the freezer, and use as needed. They will transform your South Asian dishes from “really good” to “how can it get any better?!?!?”. They are the curry leaves of Asian cuisine. Add them with the green curry paste, and the lime flavour is heightened further!

This dish will turn your kitchen into a little taste of Thailand with its aromas and taste. Quick to make and quicker to devour, this is a classic!

The recipe can be found here: Vegetarian Green Thai Curry


Ciambotta

 

A delicious light stew from the southern part of Italy

 This delicious rustic Italian stew is a cross between a Ratatouille and a Primavera sauce – in fact, depending on how you serve it, it could be either! Originally from Sicily, many versions of this stew exist, and are subject to the whims of your pantry. Eggplant, tomatoes, and fresh basil are must-haves in the composition. The rest is at the discretion of the cook!

For my version, I added fresh fennel which added a nice liquorish crunch to the dish. Bell peppers added some colour, and spinach and mushrooms added nice texture contrasts. The dish is simply seasoned with some red wine vinegar, chili flakes and fresh basil, making it a nice light change to the hearty winter stews of the season. Serve with some chickpeas or socca bread, and it’s a complete meal! Pour on top of pasta, and you have a saucy change to the standard primavera. Yet another dimension of Italian cooking, proving that there is more to the country than spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna!

 

Ciambotta

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 lbs. eggplant, cubed
1½ cup red onion, diced large
1 bulb fennel, cubed
2 bell peppers, diced large
5 cloves garlic, minced
1½ lbs. zucchini, cubed
2½ cups tomatoes, diced large OR 1 (28oz.) can diced tomatoes
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. chili pepper flakes
½ cup fresh basil, chiffoned
salt and pepper, to taste

Optional:
2 tbsp. capers
¾ lb. Potatoes, cubed
celery
mushrooms
cauliflower
greens: spinach, kale, Swiss chard

Directions:
1) Sauté onion, garlic, and fennel in olive oil until onion soft
2) Add eggplant. Stir. Add water as necessary to prevent sticking. Cook until eggplant beginning to soften, approx. 10min.
3) Add bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, vinegar, and chili flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until all veggies are tender, approx. 15min.
4) Stir in fresh basil, salt, pepper, and optional capers and greens. Simmer approx. 5min.
5) Serve as a soup, over pasta, with bread, or with socca.

 


Thai Red Curry with Savoury Mango Salad

R: Thai Mango Salad. L: Thai Red Curry

This Thai feast was inspired by the 9lb. case of mangos that were on sale. After peeling, dicing, and freezing most of the case, I saved a couple to eat fresh. Mangos are lovely, but one person can only eat so many! Trying something different, I decided to make a light and refreshing mango salad to go along with a Thai curry. Exploring my Thai skills, I opted for a spicy Thai Red Curry – a departure from my favourite Thai Green Curry. The mango salad was as advertized – light, refreshing, and with a nice little kick at the end from the red chili pepper flakes that I sprinkled on. The bean sprouts and shredded mango gave the salad a nice soft/crunchy texture ratio, and the leftovers were delicious the next day! Most importantly, when served with this spicy curry it cooled the palate down with complementary flavours so that each dish was brought to new levels of greatness!

The Mango salad recipe can be found here: Thai Mango Salad. I made this salad twice, once with a ‘green’ mango and once with a mango that was extremely ripe. The green mango salad version was crispier and less sweet, but the ripe mango salad was just as delicious! As it was slightly sweeter, you could also use it as a different dessert offering that would please many guests at the end of your Thai feast.

The Thai Red Curry was also delicious. My only complaint is that my homemade red curry paste wasn’t very red. Next time I may omit the coconut milk, or add some more red chilis to get the promised colour. This would also up the spice level – something I never complain about! The curry itself comes together quite quickly, even with making your own curry paste. I served it with vermicelli, but it would also be great with some rice to soak up the sauce. Fresh curry pastes beat the store-bought every time, if only because they smell so delicious when you are making them! For this version of curry I added tofu, bell pepper, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and green beans. I love when you cook cherry tomatoes just enough so they are warm but the skins don’t split. Then when you eat them they explode in your mouth like tomato flavour bombs! Other vegetable add-ins that would be delicious is bok choy, kale, spinach, snap peas, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, or even some jackfruit. To make it more of a fall curry, you could use potatoes, squash (butternut or pumpkin – something firm and not too sweet), spinach, eggplant, and for a special surprise turnips for an interesting twist on the fall menu.

I used this recipe as an inspiration: Vegetarian Thai Red Curry. I combined other recipes I found for red curry paste as well as cooking techniques for Thai curry’s and came up with my own version below.

Thai Red Curry

Red Curry Paste:
3 shallots or 1 small onion, diced
2 tbsp. lemongrass, minced
3 Thai red chillies or 3t. Thai red chili sauce
3 cloves garlic
1” piece galangal, sliced
¼ tsp. white pepper
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. coriander seeds, ground
3 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 kaffir lime leaf
½ tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. turmeric
½ can light coconut milk

Directions:
1) In food processor, puree all paste ingredients until forms into a paste.

Curry:
1 tsp. peanut oil
1 (350g) package firm tofu, cubed
1 small Japanese eggplant, cubed
3-4 kaffir lime leaves
½ can light coconut milk
10-15 cherry tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
½ cup Thai basil, sliced into ribbons

Additional vegetable ideas:
Mushrooms, green beans, bok choy, kale, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, jackfruit

Directions:
1) Preheat large fry pan on medium-high. Add peanut oil and pour in curry paste. Stir-fry until fragrant, ~1-2 min.
2) Add tofu and eggplant. Stir-fry until saturated with sauce.
3) Add lime leaves and coconut milk. Simmer ~5 min.
4) Add remaining vegetables. Simmer 5-7 min., until tomatoes soft but not burst.
5) Garnish with basil; serve over rice.


Thai Jackfruit Curry

 

After my success with Ethiopian Jackfruit W’et, the bar was set high for my second experience with jackfruit. Copious amounts of Internet research revealed precious little that seemed able to rise to the occasion. I had almost thrown in the towel and conceded defeat to console myself in another w’et (a fantastic consolation, I think!) when inspiration struck. The savoury jackfruit recipes I could find could be neatly summed as follows: mock pulled pork, a dish that I have never liked; a coconut-based Sri Lankan curry, a coconut-based Malay dish, and a Thai curry. Aside from the pulled pork, all three had strikingly similar spice profiles with variable vegetable additions. So why not combine them all and add my own twist? And that’s exactly what I did!

I created a Thai Red/Green Curry (the Steve Smith Curry?) with a homemade curry paste, taking from the Sri Lankan, Malay, and Thai spice profiles. I simmered the curry paste in a bit of coconut milk to let the flavours develop and then dumped in all my vegetable additions. The result was sheer brilliance. This curry was nice and spicy with a kick – it’s one that you don’t think is that bad and are just reaching for the Sriracha when your eyes start to water. (Reduce number of chilis or seed them if this doesn’t appeal to you!) The jackfruit, bell peppers, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and eggplant make the dish colourful. The variance in textures of the vegetables is also a delight to eat: every spoonful is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get! I especially love cherry tomatoes in coconut-based curries. I add them right near the end so they are cooked enough to be warm but not enough for the skins to split. Then when you eat them you get a burst of cheery tomato in your mouth. The jackfruit in the dish assumes the curry flavour much like eggplant but is firmer in texture. I would highly recommend using jackfruit instead of tofu in this curry if you are serving the dish to a crowd who are not fans of tofu, no matter how delicious the dish is. I served it over a bed of lightly steamed kale, but the more traditional way would be over vermicelli or rice. This dish exceeded the high bar set by the w’et with a completely different approach, style, and texture. Yet again jackfruit shone through, making me wonder what took me so long to pick up the can at the Asian grocery in the first place!

Thai Jackfruit Curry

Curry Paste:
3 spring onions, sliced
1-3 Thai red chili
1 tbsp. lemongrass, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
4-5 Kaffir lime leaves, cut into strips
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. vegetarian fish sauce (optional; can substitute with soy sauce if you prefer)
½ cup fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp. light soy sauce (for gluten free use Tamari soy sauce)
1 tsp. dark soy sauce (optional)
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. brown sugar OR ½ tsp. Sucanat
¼ can coconut milk

Directions:
1) Place all ingredients in food processor. Puree until paste forms.

Jackfruit Curry:
1 can jackfruit in brine, drained, or 1 package frozen unripe, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tsp. peanut or canola oil
¼ cup white wine or vegetable broth
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
generous handful cherry tomatoes
½-¾ can coconut milk, depending on personal sauce preference

Optional garnish:
¾ cup unsalted cashews, dry roasted
fresh basil, cut into ribbons

Additional vegetable suggestions: bok choy, mushrooms, snap peas, green beans, eggplant

Directions:
1) Preheat large pan with oil. Pour in curry paste and stir-fry until fragrant, ~1min.
2) Add jackfruit. Stir-fry until well saturated with sauce.
3) Add the vegetable stock. Stir and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 5 minutes.
4) Add ½ can coconut milk, plus all green vegetables (except basil). Simmer 3-4 minutes.
5) Add the cherry tomatoes. Simmer 2-3min; avoid overcooking vegetables!
6) Turn off heat and stir in cashews.
7) Garnish with fresh basil; serve over rice.


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