points for trying

vegan gluten-free "cookies."

vegan gluten-free “cookies.”

True friendship can be defined as attempting to make vegan cookies for someone observing Greek Orthodox Lent (no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no oil)… and by said friend eating said cookies despite them having only a vague resemblance to dessert.

Adapted from here, although I swapped out the banana for some of the Five Spice Cranberry-Strawberry compote/jam I made last week:

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I found the recipe unfortunately vague with respect to actual quantities (dates: packed or loose? Weight would have helped) and final desired consistency and ended up winging it a fair bit, which is perhaps why they ended up with a macaroon-type texture and far less than the couple-dozen cookies suggested as the yield.

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In the end, they are probably a great mid-morning snack: protein, fiber, healthy sugars. But as an actual dessert… not quite what anyone might have in mind.

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soy ahoy, part two: hot and sour edamame with tofu

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As mentioned last week, I went a little soy crazy in Flushing. This is the rest of the story.

 

Hot and Sour Edamame with Tofu
(adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cool Everything Vegetarian)

1/4 cup neutral oil, divided
8 oz tofu, drained and cut into cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 hot dried red chiles, minced or the equivalent in red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fermented black beans or other salty bean product (miso, etc.)
1/3 cup shaoxing wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup stock or water, mixed with 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 cups edamame

Heat your wok/skillet. Put in half the oil. When it’s hot, add the tofu and brown.

Add the rest of the oil and, after it’s hot, add onions and saute until soft. Add garlic and ginger and chili (flakes) and saute until they’re soft and fragrant, too.

Add liquids: wine, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, and stock. Add salty bean product.

Bring to a boil and then turn down to low. Add browned tofu and edamame. Simmer until edamame is tender, 5-7 minutes, and adjust seasonings.

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Edamame is certainly not new to me, although I’ve never bought it in this format and I’ve never cooked with it, so I’m counting it in the tags. I’m more used to it in the bento boxes at the Korean lunch place and as bar snacks. But these were quite affordable and much less of a hassle than peeling a gazillion pods myself.

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Tofu, mid browning. I’d drained it earlier. I’ve got a system going involving one of my cooling racks, a cutting board, and the Gourmet cookbook (all thousand pages and two tons of it). It’s less complicated than it sounds and is more effective than just resting cubes between weighed-down dishes.

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Browned tofu, onion, and then garlic and ginger. I may have been a little generous with the ginger.

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The brown pastes that have lived in the back of my fridge since the Clinton administration, at least. The one on the left is miso and, yes, I got rid of the spoon contamination from the chili paste on the right.

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The serving suggestion from Bittman is over rice. The first time, pictured at the top, I ended up doing it with kasha because that’s what I pulled out when I stuck my hand into the back of the freezer looking for the rice. (I have portioned containers of both for easy dinner.) It was tasty and nutritious. For leftovers, I used my spinach noodles:

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It was also tasty, if not necessarily as nutritious as the kasha.

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And there was dessert.

soy ahoy, part one: banana milkshake

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The most recent excursion to Flushing saw me going a little soy crazy. I came home with soy milk, frozen edamame, and tofu. The latter two went into a recipe that’ll be up here in a few, but I was a bit perplexed about what to do with the soy milk. I bought because, hey, I’ve never tried it and for $1.19, I can afford the experiment. But once the initial tasting was complete, that still left most of the quart left over.

As for that experiment, I cannot imagine how anyone with functioning taste buds could confuse unsweetened/unflavored soy milk with anything that came out of a cow. Or a goat or a sheep, for that matter. It’s not awful. It’s not even bad. It’s just… not milk. It tastes like plants. And I would never consider pouring it over my generic-brand Lucky Charms, let alone pouring it into my coffee.

That does not mean I couldn’t find other uses for it.

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It was close to a hundred degrees in NYC for much of the week, so it’s no surprise that my whim took the form of something cold – frozen, in fact. I have a selection of fruit hanging out in the freezer – blueberries, cranberries, and a bag full of overripe bananas because I always buy more than I can finish before they start to go.

There is no recipe because I didn’t measure anything and, really, it will all depend on what you’ve got going on and how sweet your fruit is and how sweet you like your smoothies. But this is all I used, except for a splash of vanilla.

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Possibly by blind luck, this came out spectacularly. It was creamy beyond any reasonable expectation and there were no grassy undertones. Also, it held together as a thick, smooth liquid until the end, not separating out the way my usual milk-and-yogurt shakes do – it held together like a fast food shake with its added stabilizers and emulsifiers and whatnot. Except it was smoother and tastier and definitely kosher to accompany a hamburger.

(I didn’t have a hamburger; this was dinner. But you could have it with a hamburger and it would be okay with a rabbi.)

On a day when it was still 92F at midnight, this was a win.

 

As a related aside, since I’ve burbled happily about a vegan treat, let me briefly mumble less than happily about vegan cookbooks, since I’ve taken out a few from the library over the past several months. I skipped the (in)famous Veganomicon because it weighs a ton, but I did borrow books separately written by the two authors of that, Terry Hope Romero’s Viva Vegan and Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Appetite for Reduction. I don’t know what the two of them are like together – I had no patience to sit through their old public access show – but separately, they take wildly different paths to reach their audiences. Viva Vegan, focusing on Latin American cuisine, is very inclusive: here are tasty recipes you might like to try and oh, by the way, they’re vegan and I don’t think you’re going to miss the meat and dairy. There are also a bunch of interesting recipes to try. Appetite for Reduction, which is a healthy-eating book, is… not inclusive. It takes for granted that you think “meat is murder” and all of the other tropes that make PETA look like goofballs when they take it too far. I found the author’s tone extremely off-putting to the point that I didn’t even finish browsing it for ideas. There are many reasons to choose a vegan meal either in isolation or as part of a lifestyle choice and most of them aren’t based on personal ethics. I don’t need my dinner with a side order of shame.

food to google

 

I consider myself to be a fairly adventurous eater within my normal boundaries. I’ve got no interest in offal or other ‘fun’ parts of snout-to-tail eating, but that’s entirely because I’m not a big eater of the more standard parts of our meat animals. But give me a new cheese or fruit or vegetable or starch, and I’m totally game.

Downtown Flushing is a great place to spread one’s wings in any direction, animal, vegetable, or mineral. Mostly it’s because they’ve got a very wide variety of stuffs that aren’t familiar to Western palates, almost none of it labeled in English.

For vegetables, my usual method of post-purchase identification is to pull out Bruce Cost’s book and flip the pages until I find a picture that matches what’s on the counter. For fruits, however, the search can be a little harder and, occasionally, impossible.

In other words, I have no idea what these are:

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They look like pears, but there is nothing pear-like about them. They feel like a succulent almost, like they’d be the fruit of some kind of cactus. But they come from something leafy – the pile at the market had a few attached to stems with long green leaves.

Tastewise, they’re pretty mild with a little bit of muskiness and sourness. Of course, I don’t know if you’re supposed to eat them raw or if they’re incredibly underripe. I tried half of one raw and the other half I steamed along with some greens.

The register receipt called these kamtai, but Google gives me nothing related to food on that front, so I’m still not sure.  

So the story goes like this: Pal S took one look at that picture and went “oh! Jamrul! We got that in Calcutta!” and from there, the mystery rapidly came to a successful conclusion.

The rest of my mystery pile was a little more straightforward:

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These are both gaya melons. Or, at least, they were both labeled as gaya melons on the grower’s sticker.

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They might both be gaya melons, since this is clearly not some mutant cantaloupe nor is it the right color to be an Israeli melon. (Although what an Israeli melon would be doing in a Chinese market anyway is beyond me.) Very sweet and tasty, like a honeydew.

 

The groceries by work also have interesting fruits on occasion, but I’m as likely to pick up a new cheese there as anything else.

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This is called buenalba, which is a raw sheep’s milk cheese. It’s purple because the rind’s been washed with merlot. It’s tasty, although I don’t think it’s a life-changing cheese. It’s certainly a striking element for a cheese plate.

 

And thus concludes this week’s investigation into the weird stuff in my fridge.

lazy person’s pasta primavera

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So lazy, I didn’t even take a picture of it plated.

 

I went into Zabar’s for coffee the other Friday evening and, halfway between the cheese and the dried fruit, I realized that I didn’t feel like cooking dinner. Luckily, halfway between the cheese and the dried fruit is the fresh pasta, so I picked up some tortellini.

It’s not quite spring, no matter what the calendar says, and so this is not quite pasta primavera, although I suppose it is because there’s no such thing as a definitive recipe, is there?

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One zucchini, having come up against the box grater and lost.

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The last of the spinach I had lying around; this is not the knife to chop spinach with, but it was the one that was already dirty.

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One very messy stovetop as I sauté the veggies with some olive oil, garlic, and capers. I added some freshly grated pecorino later, but forgot to photograph.

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I think this was tomato and gorgonzola tortellini, the former explaining the orangey tint. It was tasty, as most of Zabar’s fresh pasta is.

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Dessert was kiwis. The ones on the left are golden kiwis, the ones on the right are the standard variety. Golden kiwis, at least the ones I got, are a little sweeter and don’t have a fuzzy exterior.

666 is the number of the entree

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I have a very mixed history with food pretending to be other food – or, at least, non-meat pretending to be meat. Historically, I’ve disdained it. It’s like the bread and cereal and other items that appear around Passover so that you can still have your Cheerios for breakfast without eating chametz. If you’re going to give something up – especially for a non-medical, non-required reason – then give it up and stop weaseling with technicalities.

But that was a position staked out largely before I gave up pig products, which explains why I have a vegan chorizo recipe photocopied and waiting to be tried. Also, it explains this post.

This is technically my second experiment with seitan, the first being the little curds I picked up the other month and tried to figure out how to use without any sort of directions or suggestions on the package. In my vegetarian Thai cookbook, there is a recipe for making seitan from scratch, the end steps being to either deep fry (preferred) or bake the results. I got something edible out of toasting the store-bought version, so I figured I’d try again.

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These may put anyone on the path to carnivorous behavior. They felt exactly the way they look – like rubber.

Thankfully, they look a little more like food and less like mistakes from the tire factory after toasting, even though I believe this type is supposed to be steamed:

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As for what to do with them, I opted to go for a Chinese-Thai mishmash (it’s not elegant enough to be called a fusion): a Thai green curry stir-fry.

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This is my new-ish wok, by the way. It’s one of those flat-bottomed types for western stovetops. I actually have a proper Chinese wok, complete with a crown that rests on the burner grate, but this is easier to work with. It was originally a bright, shiny stainless steel, but while my seasoning has been irregular, the important part – the bottom – is well done. It’s gigantic, though, and one of the reasons my next home cannot have a tiny stove.

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Food that looks exactly like what it’s supposed to be. More or less; the coconut milk is reconstituted from powder.

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This is a lot of food and yes, I was eating it all week.

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I didn’t make it as soupy as a Thai curry that you get in a restaurant would be – I love that style, but that’s an awful lot of coconut milk to be consuming. It was saucy enough, though, and very tasty.

Dessert was from the other end of the globe: a poppy cake made with the remainder of the mun filling from the Purim hamantaschen. 

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tofu and mystery greens

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Not as often as I’d like, I make my way into downtown Flushing, aka NY’s other Chinatown. I hit up my favorite flower tofu stand and get on the bus with heavily-weighted red plastic shopping bags… and having spent much less than $10. It’s a good time and a good deal.

On my most recent trip, in addition to the $.49/lb bananas and $1/quart strawberries and garlic and other essentials, I picked up some fresh (solid) tofu and mystery greens. In Flushing, you’re lucky if they post the price – you’re not going to get a label, let alone one in English. So I got something leafy and green that everyone else seemed to like a lot and decided to figure it out later.

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The parental unit got this for me earlier this year. It’s more about the buying than the cooking, but it’s invaluable if you shop in East Asian markets and sometimes when you don’t – it’s good for guesstimating substitutions.

Anyway, Mr. Cost is responsible for me figuring out that my mystery greens:

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Were this:

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There were suggestions for what to do with this and other bok choy-related veggies, but I already had a plan.

Here is the original recipe. I made some trivial and non-trivial changes. At the end of the day, it’s still tofu and nuts and greens… just not the same nuts and not the same greens.

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I did not get fancy with my tofu. It was not extra-firm or possessing sharp corners, so I wasn’t going to get very thin or delicate cuts out of it.

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I have four different types of nuts in my freezer, but none of them are pecans (or pine nuts, if you saw the previous post). I like cashews better anyway and when I think of Chinese food and nuts, I don’t really think of pecans.

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Chopped and pralined, more or less. I threw in a few red pepper flakes, but next time, I’ll be a little freer.

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Right about now, I realized that that pretty substantial pile of greens wasn’t going to be enough.

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And it wasn’t. This is what it looked like right at the end. The top picture is actually the reheated leftovers, for which I first sauteed the other half of my stash of yow choy.

For a quick weeknight dinner, this really worked. Some rice out of the freezer and I was good to go.