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Lebanese Falafel

Lebanese Falafel served with Cucumber Tomato salad and Lemon Tahini dressing

Lebanese Falafel served with Cucumber Tomato salad and Lemon Tahini dressing

I am addicted to falafel. I judge a city by it’s falafel offerings, and can be quite picky. I have lived in two cities with sub-standard falafel, and during that time I honed in on the craft of making my own and demanded that my first meal back in my hometown was falafel. I am a walking example of the Canadian fusion girl: craving Middle Eastern cuisine with the physique of a Scandinavian.

I have tried many versions of this staple, making an effort to write down every tweak and change. Some batches were fit only for the garbage; some made me yearn for the sub-standard offerings. But through dedication and perseverance, I found The Falafel Recipe. The trick: do not cook the beans. This is true throughout the Middle East: In Lebanon and Israel, chickpeas are used. In Egypt, the chickpeas are replaced with fava beans or a combination of fava beans and chick peas (I call this garfava, because it’s fun to say). To make the falafel more Egyptian, the amount of fresh herbs should be doubled, to the point where the falafel looks green. Of course, you could also use a green such as spinach or Swiss chard to get the same effect. Lebanese falafel is the “Canadian” version of Egyptian and Israeli: enough fresh herbs for significant speckles of green, but enough cumin and spice to remind you of Israeli falafel. The uncooked beans give you the classic falafel texture. Not smooth, but grainy (about the size of uncooked quinoa seeds), with a firm bite. For a true classic version, these should be deep fried or pan fried, but I am well aware of my kitchen limitations, and know that hot oil and a stove is a recipe for disaster. Baking is much safer 🙂

To serve these falafels, I have made the traditional falafel pita, made a deconstructed pita including a cucumber-tomato salad and tahini-lemon dressing (1:1 for tahini to lemon juice, mixed well. Add water for consistency as necessary, and some cayenne for spice) and pickled red onions, and eat them plain as snacks. These are by far the best falafels I have ever tasted, and well worth the cravings! (Note: I have not travelled to Israel, Lebanon, or Egypt. But when I do, one of my first stops will be a falafel stand!) Simple, easy, minimal dishes, freezer-friendly, and delicious, these falafels are worth their exalted status in my kitchen.

 

Lebanese Falafel

2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water

1 small onion, chopped OR ½ cup chives, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. paprika

¼ tsp. black pepper

4 tbsp. lemon juice

½ tsp. salt, or to taste

 

Directions:

1)      Drain soaked chickpeas. Rinse well and set aside.

2)      In food processor, add all ingredients. Process until reaches a consistency between couscous and hummus. *Note: Depending on the size of the food processor, may have to do this in batches

3)      Place 2 tbsp. of mixture in your hand, and roll into a ball. Place falafel on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat until no mixture left.

4)      Bake at 350oF for 20min. Carefully flip over falafel and bake an additional 10-15min, until falafel golden brown.

5)      Serve as a deconstructed falafel pita, as a topping for a salad, or plain!

 


Ma Po Tofu and Eggplant Stew

Ma-Po Eggplant Tofu Stew

Ma Po Tofu and Eggplant Stew, served with a fresh Japanese Turnip Pickle

It started with the turnips. Japanese turnips, fresh from the garden. This inspired me to use the fermented black beans, which I picked up at an Asian grocery store on a whim one (+) year ago. Sometimes my food-association astounds me. The fermented black beans led me to the question: “What do I do with these?”. Apparently not a whole lot that I could find. It is however the main ingredient of Doubanjiang, a Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce. Doubanjiang is also the star ingredient for Ma Po Tofu, a spicy wok tofu dish from the Sichuan province. And thus the dish was born! To add to the difficulty, I could not find a recipe for Doubanjiang, as apparently it is much more sane common to use the pre-made sauce. Doubanjiang is also called toban djan, lado ban jiang, or Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce. After much searching, I found a base recipe that looked to match the ingredient label of a common pre-made sauce. The end result of this inspiration was a spicy hot-and-sour soup alternative that is addictive and delicious. Sometimes my crazy food-association games turn out better than even I could dream of!

As I do not own a wok, I didn’t want to compromise my first Ma Po Tofu experience with sub-par equipment, so I turned the concept into a stew. To help this I added eggplant and bok choy, with the final result of a spicy hot and sour soup type dish. The results were amazing. It will warm your soul, tickle your taste buds, and clear your sinuses. The soft tofu is almost unnoticeable (a concern for me and my texture issues). The eggplant and dried mushrooms add some texture, the greens colour, and the consommé (fancy word for clear broth) is absolutely divine. It will trick anybody into thinking that you slaved over a hot stove for hours building complex flavour, instead of the 45min. that it takes. I served the stew with a quick turnip pickle, to highlight the turnip inspiration. The robust flavour is due to the homemade Doubanjiang, and the fermented black beans. Of course, you can use the bought sauce – I’m sure it’d be just as delicious, and perhaps even more true to the Ma Po Tofu inspiration.

The Doubanjiang took less than 15min. to make, and most of that was rinsing the black beans. The black beans are fermented in salt, and right out of the package they’re like eating a salt lick. Make sure you rinse them very very well! The amount of Thai chilis seem excessive for only 2/3 cup of sauce, but if you think of the sauce as a spicy soy sauce, its more reasonable. I didn’t have the yellow rice wine or the dark rice vinegar, so I googled “appropriate” substitutions more common in my kitchen. Next time I will try to make the recipe as written, but this version was fantastic. The sauce itself was like a spicy vinegar soy sauce which was quite thick. I am not in the habit of having pre-made stir fry sauces on hand, but I am assuming this’d be fantastic with a quick Asian vegetable stir-fry. I tailored the recipe to use the full amount in the stew, and it was perfect!

This dish is sure to impress. Different and exotic, it is one I will be making again!

 

Ma Po Tofu and Eggplant Stew

4 dried flower mushrooms

6 cloves garlic, minced

⅔ cup doubanjiang sauce (lado ban jiang, toban djan; Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce)

4 cups eggplant, diced into ½” cubes (1 med.)

350g. soft tofu, drained and diced into ½” cubes

4+ cups water

2 tbsp. rice vinegar

3 cups bok choy, chopped

2 tbsp. Sriracha

4 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced

Directions:

1) In small bowl, cover dried mushrooms with 1” boiling water. Let soak for 30min., until soft.

2) In large pot, sauté garlic in 2 tbsp. of water on high, stirring frequently. Sauté until garlic slightly brown.

3) Stir in doubanjiang. Sauté for 1min.

4) Add the eggplant, stir. Cover and sauté until eggplant begins to get soft, approx. 5min. Add water as necessary to prevent sticking.

5) Add tofu and water. Stir very gently, so as to not break the tofu. Bring to a low boil.

6) Drain the mushrooms and slice into bite-sized pieces.

7) Add the sliced mushrooms and rice vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook until eggplant tender, approx. 10min.

8) Add the bok choy and Sriracha. Stir and bring to a simmer.

9) Turn off heat, stir in scallions.

10) Serve with rice or Asian noodles of choice.

 

Doubanjiang Sauce (Lado Ban Jiang, Toban Djan; Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce)

10 fresh red Thai chilis, minced

⅓ cup fermented black beans

1 tbsp. yellow rice wine (sub: gin, white wine; I used rice vinegar)

2 tsp. dark rice vinegar (sub: balsamic vinegar)

½ tsp. Sucanet

Directions:

1) With a fine mesh strainer, rinse the black beans really well, to remove all excess salt.

2) In small saucepan, sauté chilis and black beans in 2 tbsp. water on medium-low until fragrant, approx. 2-3min.

3) Add rice wine and rice vinegar. Simmer 3min. Add water as necessary for consistency.

4) Stir in Sucanet and remove from heat. Let cool completely

5) Store in mason jar in fridge: will keep for 3 weeks

Makes ⅔ cups of sauce


Butternut Squash Latin Salad

This simple salad was an accompaniment to my most recent variation of my Ultimate Veggie Burgers: Butternut, Beet, Buckwheat, and Black-Eyed Pea burgers. An absolutely delicious combination hearty burger that carries both Sriracha and hummus toppings with aplomb. The downside to the burgers was that I had overestimated the grated squash required, and thus had a whole mountain left over. So what is one to do other than create a crunchy salad?

The inspiration for this salad was the Thai Mango Salad, which was surprisingly delicious when mango was grated. If it would work for mango, why not butternut squash? I realize my line of thought is often not linear, but my creativity/desperation often benefits from my wacky associations. There isn’t really a recipe for this salad, as it was born out of desperation and a finite amount of grated butternut squash. But the salad guidelines are as follows:

– Grated butternut squash (I used my food processor as I had a lot from the burgers, but a handheld grater would also work. Grating butternut squash is the easiest thing you will ever do – even easier than carrots!)
– 1-2 tomatoes, diced
– ½ of a green bell pepper, diced
– 1-2 green onions, chopped
– 1-3 jalapenos, depending on personal preference
– 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
– dash of cayenne, cumin, and chili powder
– sprinkle of red pepper flakes
– salt/pepper to taste
– cilantro for garnish

Directions:
1) To grate butternut squash: Slice in half the slice again in 2″ strips. Peel the strips with a vegetable peeler, or cut the rind off. Proceed to grate the squash with your preferred method: food processor, manual, or if desperate julienned squash would work as well!
2) Toss all vegetables in a bowl.
3) Season with lime juice and all other seasonings.
4) For best flavour, loosely cover with saran wrap and let sit in fridge for 1h before serving.

As with most coleslaw salads, this recipe only improves with age. Bright, fresh, and crunchy it adds zing to whatever meal you desire! I ate it as a side for lunch and dinner, and even served it with some cooked quinoa for breakfast. Embrace the raw squash – it’s delicious!


Curried Quinoa and Adzuki Bean Salad

A light, refreshing summer meal!

(Please excuse the picture background – taken on my apartment deep freeze)

Feeling creative in the kitchen, I created this recipe for a change to my standard stews and salads. I love Adzuki beans, which are small red beans used most often in Asian dishes. From their dried state they take marginally longer to cook than lentils, but if you prep your veggies while the beans are simmering they’ll be ready before you know it. Adzuki beans when cooked are little gems of creamy goodness – they are slightly sweeter than black beans, and are the perfect texture for stir-frys and salads. They both hold their shape and become creamy with slight pressure with the back of a spoon. The result is an added dimension to the sauce of your choice, but without compromising the joy of eating whole beans!

This salad is one potential combination of many for the classic Big Bowl. Grain + Bean + Greens = infinitely adaptable meals that could provide variation in your diet for months. The recipe below results in an interesting taste sensation – the Adzuki beans add an Asian flair to the traditional Indian curry spices. The quinoa adds a nutty flavour, and when served over spinach a whole meal salad that is light, filling, and delicious results. A perfect weekday meal for when you don’t really feel like cooking but can’t stand to eat another container of leftovers!

Curried Quinoa and Adzuki Bean Salad

Dressing:
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1½ tsp. dried oregano
1½ tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. mustard seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1) In glass jar or small cup whisk together all ingredients. Set aside.

Salad:
¾ cups quinoa
½ cup dry adzuki beans (1½ cups cooked)
3 tbsp. green onions, chopped
1 tsp. garlic, minced
⅓ cup carrot, diced
⅓ cup cucumber, diced
⅓ cup zucchini, diced
¾ cup tomato, diced
⅓ cup green pepper, diced
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions:
1) In medium saucepan, cook quinoa in 1½ cups water (~20min). Set aside.
2) If required, cook adzuki beans. Drain and set aside.
3) In large bowl, toss together cooked quinoa, beans, and all remaining ingredients.
4) Gradually pour in dressing, tossing to coat.
5) Serve over bed of spinach, kale, or other greens.


El Salvador Feast: Black Bean and Plantain Pupusa, Curdito, and Simple Tomato Sauce

Components: Curdito in the bowl; Pupusa topped with Simple Latin Tomato Sauce and sliced avocado sprinkled with chili powder on the plate.

 

The hot weather made me do it. I finally got around to trying Terry Hope Romero’s cookbook Viva Vegan! a tomb of 200 Latin American recipes. I quickly learned in my 3h read through of the book that what I thought was Latin American was actually Tex-Mex, and everything I hate about Tex-Mex has no bearing in authentic Latin American food. It was one of the more expensive library trips for me – what started as a 20-recipe ‘must try NOW’ list plus an additional 20-recipe ‘must make within the month’ resulted in me purchasing the only copy of the cookbook in my city. And thus began the Latin Cooking Extravaganza!

 

I will be honest, I didn’t know much about Latin American food, aside from the aforementioned Tex-Mex. Tacos, Enchiladas, and Mole sauce and I was out. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with plenty more to be explored! Viva Vegan! is a fantastic resource for the uninitiated and adventurous – such as myself. It has recipes from all over Central and South America, with plenty of tips on how to properly roast chilies, when to use the special ingredients and when you can get away with substitutions (especially important for chili powders!), as well as well written step-by-step instructions on how to make your own Latin kitchen staples, such as tortillas. The best part of cooking Latin was that with my pantry stocked with Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian spices, I could cook almost every recipe in the cookbook without a special trip to the grocery store. But where is the fun in experimenting if it doesn’t come with a trip to the ethnic market? Three kinds of chili powder, two kinds of dried chilies, a bottle of habanero hot sauce, and a Mexican spice called Epazote that smells like gasoline later and I was set.

 

Opening the fest was Black Bean and Plantain Pupusas (pg. 162), Curdito (pg. 79), and Simple Tomato Sauce (pg. 46). Pulled together in under an hour, Latin weekend opened with a bang of flavour! The Curdito is the same as the coleslaw recipe for the Baja Tacos in Veganomicon, and my favourite coleslaw recipe ever. The Simple Tomato Sauce is exactly that – simple and delicious. It amazed me how something with such few ingredients could taste so fantastic! I used green onions and garlic scrapes from my CSA vegetables which made the sauce fresh and bright even though I used canned tomatoes. I ate the sauce straight from the saucepan, until I deployed some measure of restraint to serve it with the pupusa.

 

The Pupusas are very easy to make, and require no time at all to cook! The dough is just masa flour and water, which turns into the consistency of homemade PlayDoh making the pupusas very easy (and fun!) to shape, mould, stuff, and close. The filling for this batch was the suggested black bean and plantain filling with a sprinkling of Daiya cheese. This combination was heavenly, and when served with the tomato sauce tasted like a Latin Pizza Pocket, only 100x better! So successful were these pupusas they have inspired my creativity, and I am planning a future themed evening of other variations – including a dessert pupusa. Cocoa powder added to the dough, and stuffed with a cinnamon-nut crumble with plantains. Mmmm… The leftover pupusas froze very well, and were very travel-friendly for meals-on-the-go. Of course, they didn’t hurt with a quick warm-up in the microwave/pan and served with some more sauce!

 

If you do not have the cookbook, I strongly urge you to check it out of the library. For a taster, the recipes for this delectable meal can be found here: Pupusas, Curdito, and Salsa Rojo. Previews of the cookbook are also available on Google Books, found here: Viva Vegan!  You will be surprised at how easy and delicious this seemingly complex dish is. Plus, you get to play with ‘PlayDoh’ dough. So roll up those sleeves, get creative with the stuffing, and enjoy!


Mushroom Wonton Soup

Wonton soup … the Chinese restaurant staple. My sister judges the quality of the Chinese restaurant by their wonton soup. Once the wontons are made, it’s a simple, quick dinner that is easily adaptable to the contents of your fridge. Just another example of comfort food in a bowl. Wontons themselves are very easy to prepare, and are assembled quicker than their Ukrainian cousins, the perogi. Like all dumplings, they are also infinitely adaptable as to fillings. Generally, I like to fill my dumplings with ‘culture neutral’ flavour profiles, so I know that the dumpling will match whatever gets thrown into the pot for consumption. So no black bean-mole wontons this time – although I’m not saying that the combination would be horrible!

For the wonton wrappers you can buy pre-made and pre-cut wonton squares at the grocery store or Asian market, but I opted to make my own. Pre-made would probably be easier, but making the dough is simple and the dough is very easy to work with. No difficulties making the cute little ‘Nurses hats’ with this assembly! I didn’t cook the wontons when I made them and instead froze them uncooked. Then, when you are ready to enjoy some wonton soup (or just the wontons by themselves with some sautéed greens!), stick them directly in the pot with the other goodies and they cook within 10 mins. Simple!

Mushroom Wontons

 Wonton Wrappers

1 cup quinoa flour
1 cup spelt flour (or 1 cup quinoa flour for Gluten Free)
½ tsp. salt
½ cup warm water

Directions:
1) In large bowl, sift together flours and salt.
2) Slowly add warm water, mixing as you pour.
3) Knead dough for ~10 min., until smooth ball forms
4) Cover with clean dishtowel and let rest 20 min.
 
Mushroom Wonton Filling

I used this recipe found here.

You can create your own filling combinations as you see fit. I have made wontons before with tofu, scallions, other vegetables, or with edamame. This filling is delicious however, and has not met a wonton soup combination it does not like! Follow these instructions for wonton assembly, and you will have an army of wontons in no time!

An Army of Wontons, ready for the soup pot!

For the soup, generally I use my Miso Soup guidelines for the flavour profile, which allows the wontons to pick up on the vegetable and broth flavours while cooking. Miso Soup is another comfort food staple, and the ratios of the soup pot is entirely dependent on what needs to be used in the fridge. I like my soup to be more like a stew, while I know others who would scoff at my interpretation and insist on a couple of scallions, a cup of mushrooms, and 8 litres of broth. To each their own – it’s delicious no matter how you cook it! My guidelines for Miso Soup are below.

Wonton/Miso Soup Guidelines

½ cup cauliflower florets
½ cup broccoli florets, or 1 cup Chinese broccoli, cut into 1″ pieces
1 medium carrot, diced
1 cup shredded greens: kale, napa cabbage, bok choi, or more Chinese broccoli work well!
1-2 scallions, sliced into 1″ pieces
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar

Optional: dash of sesame oil, tofu, edamame …

Wonton Soup: Add as many wontons as you like! Generally I add 2-4

Miso Soup: Add 1 tbsp. miso paste – red miso is my favourite

Directions:
1) In pot, add broccoli and cauliflower. Cover with lid and turn on high heat. You want to steam and slightly burn the cauliflower and broccoli.
2) Watching carefully, give the pot a shake now and then to make sure the vegetables don’t burn too much.
3) Add the carrots, cover, and steam approximately 30s.
4) Add the vegetable broth, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar. Bring to a boil. (If making wonton soup, add wontons with the water)
5) Add all remaining vegetables. Lower heat to a simmer, and let simmer approximately 5 min.
6) If making miso soup, add the miso paste. Be careful not to let the soup boil with the miso – this ruins some of the miso flavour
7) Serve garnished with fresh cilantro and Sriracha!


Ginger Garlic Thai Stir-Fry

While on my most recent 3h trip to the Asian market, after getting distracted by the variety of produce, the whole aisle of noodles and cooking spices and sauces, I made it to the frozen section. Already laden down with supplies of ingredients that I sort-of-remembered reading about and therefore had to experiment with and supplementing my stash of curry leaves, rampe, Thai basil, and kaffir lime leaves I found the “veggie meat”. As always when in an Asian market, I am suspicious of the English on the package, especially when the package looks exactly like shrimp. And is beside the real shrimp. A quick scan of the ingredients promised “glutinous” something, which I took to mean that this mysterious shrimp-looking like thing was indeed “veggie shrimp” and into the basket it went. How could I resist? I’d have to save the jackfruit for another day – but in the meanwhile my busy brain was trying to figure out how to honour this theme ingredient.

 

I don’t cook with mock meat usually – I prefer to call a spade a spade and use tofu, tempeh, or if I’m really ambitious some homemade seitan. But “veggie shrimp”? It was begging to be tried. I decided that I wanted something Thai, and something ‘clean’, so I could taste the shrimp. No use experimenting with an ingredient if you are just going to disguise the taste with a spicy red curry sauce! I was thinking the heady combination of ginger and garlic, and wanted some zip to come from the lime leaves and lemongrass … and with the necessary addition of Thai chillies, this dish was born.

 

For the first time (ever) I made a concentrated effort at writing down what I was throwing into the saucepan. Turns out my efforts are not wasted – this dish was crisp, clean, and simple. Refreshing and easy to make, it had some nice heat from the Thai chillies I used but wasn’t too spicy. The veggie shrimp was interesting for a novelty item, but I cannot say it replaces tofu in my heart. I dry-sautéed the chillies, lemongrass, lime leaves, garlic, ginger, and peanuts. This made the kitchen smell amazing, and really highlighted the lemongrass. I served it with vermicelli, but rice would soak up the sauce and be lovely as well.

 

Ginger Garlic Thai Stir-Fry

Serves 2-4

Time: 20min (ish)

Ingredients

1T. lemongrass, minced
1T. fresh ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 kaffir lime leaves
3 red Thai chillies, chopped
0.25c. peanuts, unsalted
1 package (180g) “veggie shrimp” (or extra-firm tofu, cut into whatever fun shape you want!)

 
1.5T. soy sauce, divided
1.5T. rice wine vinegar, divided
3c. bok choy, chopped (or 2 heads baby bok choy)
1 medium carrot, sliced on the bias
~0.3c. asparagus, cut into 5cm pieces (Tip: separate the stalks from the tops. You will be adding them at different times!)
3 green onions, roughly chopped

 
lime juice
fresh cilantro

 
1 bundle vermicelli

 
Other stir fry additions that would be excellent:
– mung bean sprouts, (chinese) broccoli, napa cabbage (instead of bok choy), bell peppers …

 

Directions:

1) Prepare the vermicelli as per package directions
2) Preheat a large pan (or wok, if you have it) on medium heat
3) Add the lemongrass and chillies to pan. Stir frequently so as not to burn. Sauté until fragrant
4) Add the ginger, garlic, and peanuts. Stir frequently. Sauté until peanuts lightly roasted
5) Add veggie shrimp, and sear each side of the shrimp.
6) Add 1T. soy sauce and 1T. rice wine vinegar to mixture. Stir and cover. Stir fry until veggie shrimp warmed through
7) Time to add the stir fry veg! If throughout the stir fry the pan is looking dry, add splashes of water. This also helps deglaze the pan.
8) Add the carrots and asparagus stalks. Stir and cook until stalks bright green and carrots almost to the crunchiness of your liking
9) Add the green onions, asparagus tops, and bok choy. Sauté until bok choy is bright green and wilted
10) Splash remaining 0.5T. of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar into mixture. Stir.
11) Turn off heat, add lime juice (to taste). Taste for seasonings. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve over vermicelli.


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