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Vegan Planet: August 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008


A Colorful Twist on Salade Nicoise

I think we’re finally nearing the end of our green bean and tomato harvest. Even after eating them frequently for weeks on end, I still haven’t tired of them. One of the reasons, I think, is the fantastic Nicoise-style salad that I make at least once a week. Sometimes I just combine all the ingredients in a salad bowl and toss, but most often, especially when that’s all I’m serving for dinner, I prefer to serve a “composed” salad, arranging the various ingredients aesthetically on dinner plates.

Just for fun, I changed things up a bit the other day. I came up with a colorful twist on the classic salad, using roasted sweet potatoes instead of steamed white potatoes, yellow tomatoes instead of red, and dark red kidney beans instead of my usual chickpeas (which I use instead of the traditional tuna.) For comparison to the colorful salad above, I’m also posting a photo of my regular Nicoise.

Here is the recipe so you can make it either way:

Nicoise-Style Salad
(This recipe is adapted from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson.) The colorful adaptation ingredients are in brackets.

1 1/2 pounds white potatoes [or sweet potatoes]
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces green beans
1 or 2 ripe red tomatoes, sliced [or yellow tomato]
2 tablespoons Niçoise or Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed [or dark red kidney beans]
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
Torn salad greens

Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch dice and steam over boiling water until tender. Alternately, the potatoes can be tossed with olive oil and spread on a baking sheet and roasted in a 435 degree oven until tender. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
Steam the green beans until tender. Run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
Place a layer of salad greens on dinner plates. Arrange a portion of the potatoes, green beans, tomato slices and chickpeas (or beans) decoratively on each plate. (Alternately you can cut the green beans and tomatoes and combine all the salad ingredients in a large salad bowl, including torn salad greens.)
In a small bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, parsley, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until blended, then drizzle some of the dressing over each salad, or if making one large salad, drizzle on enough dressing to coat and toss gently.

Serves 4

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Thursday, August 28, 2008


Fun with Carrots

It’s Jon’s birthday and I promised to bake him a carrot cake. I used the recipe from my upcoming cookbook, so I can’t share it here yet. But it’s really good — moist and delicious, with a soy cream cheese glaze. This cake was extra-special because it was made with our own freshly dug carrots from the garden. Some of our carrots are a tad small, so instead of grating them for the cake, I thought it would be easier to finely chop them in the food processor.

I needed two cups of carrots for the cake recipe, but ended up with nearly double that. Instead of just saving them to add to a salad, I decided to sauté them in a little olive oil and toss them with some steamed baby potatoes and fresh parsley. The fresh flavors were incredible and the carrots also added a great texture to the potatoes.

This got me thinking about all the great ways I could season these carrot bits for different flavor effects. Maybe next time I’ll sauté the carrots with some curry powder, or jerk spices, or maybe some cumin and coriander. Garlic and ginger would also be amazing, and pesto, of course, would be out of this world, like it is most any way you use it. I can see where these spiced carrot bits would also be good tossed with rice or quinoa.

It’s funny how sometimes a great new recipe can be inspired by the simplest thing — even finely chopped carrots.

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Friday, August 22, 2008


Baked Tomato Sauce

The most difficult thing about having a kitchen filled with tomatoes is deciding what to do with them. There are so many choices! The cherry and grape tomatoes usually head right for the salad and the large slicing tomatoes frequently end up in sandwiches, but the plum tomatoes and many of the mid-sized round tomatoes are usually “put up” for the coming year. Most of them are processed in mason jars which then line my pantry throughout the coming winter when fresh ripe tomatoes are just memories. I think my favorite way to prepare tomatoes, however, has to be the baked tomato sauce that I make every year.

Baking the tomatoes gives the sauce a rich depth of flavor you can’t get from just cooking them on a stovetop. It’s easy to do: just core and halve as many tomatoes as will fit in your largest baking dish (I use my 9 x 13 lasagna dish) and arrange them cut-side up with some chopped onion and garlic and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake in a 300-degree oven until they are soft and begin to brown slightly. (They will smell amazing.) I then take them out of the oven and set them aside to cool a bit.

Then, it’s decision time: do I want a smooth or chunky sauce? I usually alternate, making a few batches of both. For the chunky variety, I simply slip off the tomato skins, coarsely chop the baked tomatoes, and transfer them to a saucepan. I then add some dried basil and oregano, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer for about 20 minutes to thicken and blend the flavors. Sometimes I add ground fennel seed and hot red pepper flakes. Often, I’ll add some capers and pitted sliced olives.

For this latest batch, I decided to go with a smooth sauce. For that, I enlisted the Foley food mill which enables you to mill the tomatoes, skin and all, and as you turn the crank, just the tomato sauce and juice comes out, leaving the skin and seeds in the mill. Since the resulting sauce is too thin for a pasta sauce, I simmer it in a saucepan with some tomato paste until it is the right consistency, seasoning it to taste with the usual suspects: oregano, basil, a little sugar, salt, and pepper.

I think baked tomato sauce has to be the richest-tasting most flavorful tomato sauce there is. When I make this sauce, I usually get enough for two meals: one to enjoy now and the other to put up for another time.


Thursday, August 14, 2008


A Flight of Green Beans

Everything’s coming up green beans in my garden this week. After just a few minutes of picking, we filled my largest stainless steel bowl with perfect tender beans. I lightly steamed them all and then set about deciding how to serve them.

I had some medium cheddar Sheese on hand and some cooked pasta in the fridge, so what could I do but make Mac and Sheese? I usually add some cooked spinach or broccoli to the casserole anyway, when I make mac and “cheese,” so this time I cut some of the cooked green beans into bite-sized pieces and added them instead.

Whenever I make mac and “cheese,” I usually serve some version of "stewed" tomatoes with it, but this time, I combined the tomatoes with, you guessed it, some cooked green beans. Both dishes complemented each other nicely, yet each had its own unique flavor.

For an appetizer, I served chilled green beans with hummus for dipping, using a just-picked tomato to hold the hummus.

To complete my “green bean sampler” I couldn’t resist tossing some of them in my favorite peanut sauce. It was so yummy, it could almost qualify as dessert. And of course, we had enough of everything leftover for lunch the next day.

Easy Green Bean Mac and “Sheese”
I usually prefer making my own “cheese” sauce than using a commercial product, but I couldn’t resist the chance to try some oh-so-cheddary flavored Sheese in this recipe and I’m glad I did. It has a great taste and texture. Recipe by Robin Robertson © 2008.

8 ounces elbow macaroni
1 (8-ounce) package Medium Cheddar Sheese, grated
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 cups soy milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs

Cook the macaroni in a pot of salted boiling water until it is al dente. Drain and set it aside in a large bowl.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a saucepan, combine the shredded Sheese, nutritional yeast, mustard, paprika, and soy milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring to melt the Sheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine the sauce with the reserved macaroni and the green beans, and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a lightly oiled baking dish. Sprinkle on the bread crumbs and bake until hot and bubbly, about 25 minutes.
Serves 4

Green Beans with Tomatoes and Garlic
Adapted from a recipe in Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson © 2003, Harvard Common Press.

1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 fresh ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced or 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Steam the green beans over boiling water until just tender. Run cold water over the beans to arrest the color and cooking process. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until the tomatoes break down and the flavors are well combined, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in the reserved green beans and cook a few minutes to heat through.
Serves 4

My Favorite Peanut Sauce
Adapted from a recipe in Vegan Fire & Spice by Robin Robertson © 2008, Vegan Heritage Press.

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Asian garlic-chile sauce
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/3 cup water

In a bowl, combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, chile sauce, sugar, and ginger, stirring to blend well. Slowly add the water, stirring, to make a thick sauce.
Makes about 1 cup

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Thursday, August 7, 2008


Fresh Picked: A Tale of Two Salads

This time of year, the vegetable garden can be a full-time job — or at least two part-time jobs, with Jon tending to the weeding, watering, and picking and me doing the washing, trimming, and cooking. (We both share in the eating.) Even in this heat, we still have a few cabbages like the one in the photo. We’ve been enjoying them in vegetable soups, halushki (sautéed cabbage and onions with pasta), and of course, coleslaw.

Below is a photo of what we picked this morning. I’ll cook up the beans for tomorrow’s dinner — probably a Nicoise Salad, one of our favorites. I’ll wash, cut, and freeze the bell peppers. The baby chard is for tonight’s dinner – just steamed lightly and served with a little Earth Balance and salt and pepper. I’ll use the cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, hot chiles, and Thai basil in two salads for lunch today and tomorrow.

After an endless parade of Italian-style tomato salads, I decided to make the African-inspired Spicy Peanut Tomato Salad from Vegan Fire & Spice for today’s lunch. Since I had Thai basil that needed picking, I changed up the recipe slightly, making it more Thai than African in flavor. Either way it’s a different and tasty way to enjoy a few of the many tomatoes in our midst. I garnished the tomato salad with a Thai basil flower. So pretty.

Tomorrow we’ll dig into the Cajun Coleslaw. It tastes great today, but will be even better tomorrow. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll make some fried green tomato po’boys to go with them. Here are the recipes for the two salads:

Spicy Peanut Tomato Salad
This recipe is adapted from Vegan Fire & Spice by Robin Robertson © 2008, Vegan Heritage Press. This salad is best eaten shortly after it is made.

3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 scallions, chopped
1 small hot chile, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon chopped Thai basil (or parsley)
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (or fresh lime juice)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons crushed peanuts (optional)

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, scallions, chile, and basil. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter, rice vinegar, oil, soy sauce, sugar, and salt to taste. Stir to mix well, then stir in water, 2 tablespoons at a time, to make a smooth and pourable dressing. Add the dressing to the vegetables and toss to combine. Sprinkle with the crushed peanuts, if using.
Serves 4

Cajun Coleslaw
The flavor of this zesty slaw improves if you allow it to sit overnight, so plan to make it the day before you need it. (This recipe is adapted from Vegan Fire & Spice, by Robin Robertson © 2008, Vegan Heritage Press.)

1 small cabbage, cored and shredded
1 medium carrot, grated
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 fresh jalapeño, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large bowl, combine the shredded cabbage and grated carrot, and set aside.
In a food processor, combine the garlic, jalapeño, parsley, vinegar, sugar, salt, and Tabasco, and process until well combined. With the machine running, slowly add the oil. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well. Cover and refrigerate.
Just before serving, drain the excess liquid and adjust the seasonings to taste.
Serves 4 to 6

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Sunday, August 3, 2008


2008 Veggie Awards

I’m excited to announce that I’ve been nominated for not just one but TWO 2008 Veggie Awards by VegNews Magazine, and I’d sure appreciate your vote! I’ve been nominated for “Favorite Cookbook Author” and also for “Favorite Column” (I write the “Global Vegan” column for VegNews.)

The Veggie Awards are the world's largest survey of vegetarian people, places, and products. Voters will be entered into a grand prize drawing to win fabulous prize packages, including a New York City Urban Getaway, a Glam Girl Goodie Bag, a Marshmallow Madness Gift Pack, and a Vegan Cookie Smorgasbord.

Here's a direct link to the survey. The polls close August 31 at midnight, and winners will be announced in the November+December "Best of Vegetarian" holiday edition of VegNews. Please take the survey and vote for me so I don’t have to be the Susan Lucci of the Veggie Awards!


Saturday, August 2, 2008


My Sweet Vegan Blackberry Desserts

Hope you don’t mind another post about blackberries, but “tis the season.” I’ve already filled my freezer with little purple cups of blackberry coulis, so after the third picking this week, it was time to do something different.

This latest batch of berries gave me the perfect opportunity to test drive a dessert from My Sweet Vegan, Hannah Kaminsky’s wonderfully creative dessert book. Until now, I had just been drooling over the amazing photographs, but the mountain of blackberries in my kitchen gave me all the excuse I needed to actually prepare a recipe.

The Brilliant Berry Parfaits were an obvious choice and they turned out great. I substituted blackberries for the blueberries in the recipe and I opted for a basic vegan whipped cream garnish instead of the maple cream called for in the book.

This dessert is sublime and I could have stopped there, but I still had unspoken for berries and Jon was whining about his favorite dessert, vegan cheesecake. In this heat, I didn’t want to turn on the oven, and Hannah came to the rescue again with her Mini Icebox “Cheese” Cake, which goes into the freezer instead of the oven.

In addition to making a blackberry “jam” for the topping, I added some pureed blackberries to the filling as a replacement for the liquid in the recipe, thus adding an additional whisper of blackberries to the dessert. The “cheese”cake turned out great — the taste and texture reminded me of a mascarpone semi-freddo from my pre-vegan days.

I’m usually too busy testing my own recipes to try anyone else’s, but in the case of My Sweet Vegan, I’m glad I did. This is a dessert cookbook that grabs your attention with gorgeous photographs and follows through with terrific recipes. Do you enjoy this book as much as I do?

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