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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mock Tuna Salad

As of this moment, I'm not a vegetarian. Though at times I really would like to be. Everything that I have read or watched about the way we eat in this country says that eating meat=bad while eating a plant-based diet=good. So, I guess you can say I'm dabbling in the vegetarian genre as often as I can (or, more accurately, as often as I think my husband will tolerate it).

So today, I was trying to figure out what to serve my family for lunch. And, I must admit, weekend lunches are my culinary weak spot. During the week, I pack leftovers for my lunches and for the kids. But come Saturday and Sunday my leftover reserves are typically gone, and I'm due for a trip to the grocery store. If there are times that my family is most likely to succumb and eat out, it would be Friday night and Saturday/Sunday lunch. And if I do manage to pull something together, it's usually soup and grilled cheese sandwiches (aka The Lunch of Champions).

Today, however, I had a recipe I really wanted to try out: Mock Tuna Salad. I'd had this dish once before during a rare mother-daughter lunch at an eclectic little shop, The Shangri-La Tea Room and Vegetarian Cafe in Boise, Idaho. Served as both an appetizer (with crackers and fresh veggies) and as a sandwich, the "Mock Toona" salad at the Shangri-La is 100% raw, which I have come to find out means that it is made of a combination of soaked nuts and seeds. And while I wouldn't say that it has exactly the same taste as tuna, you definitely can understand why people call it this.

However, seed-based mock tuna is not the only type out there. There is also a vegetarian recipe using one of the most versatile beans in the vegetarian's arsenal--the garbanzo bean (or chickpea). One advantage to this recipe, as far as I can tell, is that the beans do a decent job of emulating the texture of tuna. Pulsing it in the food processor--not to the point of creating hummus, but breaking it up into "flakes"--helps to make the finished product look more like tuna salad, something that is missing in the raw version.

There are a ton of recipes for mock tuna out there. But while I was reading through the many recipes, I saw one piece of advice that really made sense to me: if you don't usually put x-ingredient into regular tuna salad, don't put it into your mock tuna. So as I looked through the recipes online, I ruled out those that included dijon mustard and other odd-sounding inclusions and created one that had the ingredients that I consider essential to a good tuna salad or chicken salad sandwich.

The recipe that I used I adapted from a posting on Chez Bettay: The Vegan Gourmet.  My modified recipe follows, but feel free to made modifications to suit your own taste. I served mine as part of an open-faced sandwich, nestled on top of fresh-sliced tomatoes, baby spinach, and a slice of homemade 100% whole wheat bread. It was also good on crackers, and (as pictured) as an actual "salad"

Mock Tuna Salad

1 cup finely diced organic celery
2 15-ounce cans organic garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
4 green onions, finely sliced (both white and green parts)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
1 tablespoon dried dill weed

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup Vegenaise or organic mayonaise
1/4 cup organic dill pickle relish or finely diced dill pickles
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste


1. Put the drained garbanzo beans into a food processor and pulse 5-6 times until roughly ground. Scrape into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

2. Add the celery and green onions to the bean mixture and stir to combine.

3. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the bowl's contents and mix together until creamy and combined.

*While the recipe is better after 24 hours in the fridge (to let the flavors mingle), it was also great freshly made as well.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Spicy African Peanut Slow Cooker Soup

So, my mother got me a new cookbook for Christmas. She figured it was right up my alley, given that I have been really focused on making vegetarian choices for my family as of late. And it has a super-cute title on top of that: "Peas and Thank You: Simple Meatless Meals the Whole Family Will Love."

The author, Sarah Matheny, is an "attorney turned stay-at-home mom" from Keizer, OR. And I'm nothing if not a fan of local talent. 

Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?

Well, it depends.

I have tried several recipes out of the book so far. Some have been EPIC FAILS, like the chocolate chip cookies (that my mom wasn't sure were fit to leave out for Santa) or the Tofu Fun Nuggets (seriously, the words "tofu" and "fun" should never even be in the same sentence, except for "It would sure be fun if tofu never appeared on my table again." And maybe I would have thought the final products would have been more fun if they hadn't taken me hours--yes, hours-- to prepare them or minutes--yes, minutes--for my family to decide that they truly were not fun, but disgusting).

Yet, there have also been several delightful recipes emerge as well, one of which I made for the first time last night: Spicy African Peanut Slow Cooker Soup (you can read Matheny's blog containing the original recipe).

Now, I've never been to Africa, and I've only had Ethiopian food a whopping three times in my life, so I'm certainly not the person to verify that this dish is authentically African. To be honest, it tastes a great deal like some of the Thai cuisine that I've had in the past, mainly because of the inclusion of peanut butter and coconut milk, both top-notch "can't go wrong" ingredients in my book. Add that to rich spices like cumin, curry powder, garam masala (a combination of black pepper, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon) and some of my favorite plant products (sweet potatoes, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, and red lentils) and you have a winner-winner-no-chicken-dinner. 

If this soup were a coat, it would be a warm, orange down parka with a hibiscus flower print--hearty, warm, and a bit tropical.

Don't let the name fool you, however. If you are looking for a spicy dish that will leave your tongue screaming, this is not that dish. No one in our household thought the soup was in any way spicy. And if you want to prepare it without using your slow cooker, it takes no time at all. Dump everything into a large pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes (this is the way I prepared it, and no regrets). We garnished only with cilantro (which I highly recommend)

Spicy African Peanut Slow Cooker Soup
from Sarah Matheny's "Peas and Thank You"
1 14-oz can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 to 3/4 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 tsp minced garlic
sweetener to taste (organic sugar or stevia--although I didn't add a bit and it was perfect)
dash of cinnamon
1 14-oz can fire-roasted tomatoes, in juice
1 14-oz can light coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp natural peanut butter
1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained

Garnishes: chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts, sour cream, or plain yogurt

Combine all ingredients in a Crock-Pot and set on high for about 30 minutes, then switch to low for an additional 3-4 hours. Serve and top with garnish(es) of choice.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Simply Stir Fry

Tonight was a typical night in the Arnold household. Kind of.

Granted, my husband is out of town for the week, leaving me to play single mom (and might I say, I have the utmost respect for women who can raise children on their own).

And granted, I hauled home nearly a half-ton of essays to grade again tonight (which is probably why I am writing a blog post rather than spending every moment between now and bedtime reading 40+ essays about how the society in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four manipulates language to control the populace).  Ugh.

But otherwise, it was the typical evening.

You know, those evenings when you are desperately trying to make a healthy dinner for your family. Meanwhile, the children huddle around your feet screaming, whining, crying, and pouting while you do everything in your power to not chop off your own ears while you wield a sharp knife.

These nights happen often at my house, and it's on nights like this that it's hard to not throw in a cookie sheet laden with chicken nuggets and tater tots and escape to the living room (where at least the sound of the commotion doesn't reverberate off the appliances and the linoleum floor). But since I no longer keep things like chicken nuggets in the freezer, I still have to find something quick to fix. And one of the freshest and fastest meals that I turn to in these times is stir fry.

My definition of a good stir fry has changed a great deal in the past year. Before, "good" stir fry involved a small sampling of vegetables mixed with commercially-prepared "stir fry sauce" (a.k.a. soy sauce on a sugar high). Now, I heap on a wide variety of fresh veggies (always remembering baby bok choy, a personal favorite green of my daughter) and replace the stir fry sauce with organic tamari soy and fresh pineapple chunks.

And when my toddler and my preschooler slick it up, leaving more rice on their plates than veggies, I know it must be good. 

The following recipe is just what I happened to throw in the wok tonight--but I often vary the ingredients to match the rainbow in my vegetable crisper drawers.

Simply Stir Fry

1/2 medium organic yellow onion, cut into thin strips
1/2 organic red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 large handful organic carrot slices
2 handfuls organic sugar snap peas
1 organic zucchini, sliced
1 baby bok choy, cut into 1" lengths
4 oz sliced mushrooms
1/4 of fresh-cut pineapple, cut into chunks
1-2 tablespoons coconut oil
2-3 drops of dark sesame oil
Organic tamari soy sauce, to taste

1. Heat oils in wok over high heat. Once hot, add onions, red pepper, carrot slices, zucchini, and snap peas. Stir fry until tender-crisp.

2. Add mushrooms and pineapple to the veggies and stir fry for about 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, add soy sauce to taste. Serve immediately over rice, toss with rice noodles, or eat as is.

3. Savor the peace and quiet that ensues as children stuff stir fry into their mouths.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Summer's Bounty Veggie Lasagna

I have a love-hate relationship with recipes.

First of all, let me say that I am a cookbook junkie. If I see an intriguing cookbook, I feel compelled to buy it. And then I usually cook out of it exclusively for a good long while (or until I get my next cookbook and start the cycle all over again). I am a great recipe cook, probably because I am a good student and I good teacher. I understand the importance of reading directions, and can follow them well. Generally, after I've tried a dish one time following the directions precisely, I start to adapt the recipe and make it more my own. Lately, I've been a bit more brave and have done this experimentation on my "rough draft" recipe experiences as well, probably because I have started to feel like I actually know how to cook, and how to make a dish tastier, healthier, and more...me.

But I must admit, especially since I have been sharing recipes, first on Facebook and now on my blog,  that I feel like a fraud posting recipes that aren't mine, even those that I have modified slightly. It's like I'm committing cooking plagiarism, calling someone else's cooking genius my culinary success.

But tonight, I bring you my very own creation. It's not unique, really, but I just couldn't find what I really wanted out there. So, I cobbled together some ideas I found from several recipes (none of which I felt totally fit what I was looking for) and came up with my very own Summer's Bounty Veggie Lasagna.

There have been other nameless creations (nameless because they found themselves in the garbage can or in the disposal before a name could be affixed; otherwise, names like "stewed crud," "bottom-feeder sludge, or "tongue-scraping acid wash" would have been most fitting) that both my husband and I fail to recollect. But it's always a crap-shoot when you do something on your own.

Luckily for my family, this experimentation was a success. We put a sizable dent in our zucchini and squash harvest from the garden, and have enough left-overs to feed us most of the week. And while the recipe isn't completely "healthy" (who can make a lasagna without some ricotta and mozzarella?), it is much healthier than the traditional alternative and is packed with nutritious veggies. Time wise, the dish was comparable to making a traditional lasagna. Oh, and did I mention that the entire meal was organic?

The layers of zucchini did a great job substituting for the pasta noodles, and I would bet that a combination of veggies (like mushrooms or eggplant) could be used in the place of or in addition to the yellow squash and the sweet Italian red peppers, depending on your preferences. And while my dish was meat-free, the veggies and cheese were filling and satisfying in their own right. Both my daughter and I did everything but lick the plate clean. I will definitely be making this one again.

Summer's Bounty Veggie Lasagna

3-4 cups spaghetti sauce (I used Muir Organic Fire-Roasted Tomato)
3 heaping tbsp almond meal/flour
16 oz oricotta cheese
1 package frozen chopped spinach
1 organic, pastured egg
1-2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 sweet Italian red peppers, diced
2 crooked neck squash, diced
6-7 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/8" thick planks
10-12 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Squeeze out extra moisture from the chopped spinach. Combine in small bowl with ricotta cheese and egg. Set aside.

3. Boil zucchini planks in large stockpot for 5 min. Drain and place on paper towels until ready to use.

4. Heat olive oil in nonstick pan over med-high heat. Add crushed garlic and cook 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add peppers and squash and saute until slightly tender.

5. Spread 1/2 cup of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 13x9" baking dish.

6. Sprinkle 1 heaping tbsp of almond meal on top of spaghetti sauce. Layer zucchini planks over the sauce. Spread 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the zucchini, then top with 1/2 of the sauteed veggies. Sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese over the veggies and finish with 1 cup spaghetti sauce.

7. Repeat the layering order (almond meal, zucchini, ricotta, veggies, mozzarella, sauce).

8. For the last layer, simply lay down the zucchini planks, cover with 1/2 cup of sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella.

9. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered for 5 additional minutes. Once baked, remove from oven and let rest for 10-20 minutes (the dish appears quite soupy when it first comes out of the oven, so no matter how good it smells, give it plenty of time to rest.

10. Cut, serve, and enjoy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Creamy Summer Zucchini Soup

It is the time of year where squash is in abundance at our house. Thus far, we have harvested no fewer than ten yellow crooked necks from our backyard garden plot. I've used them in a vegan zucchini and squash casserole stir fry, and sauteed with onions and oil oil.

Tonight I decided to try these yellow beauties in soup. I am a huge fan of Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre's The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and their blog at http://nourishingmeals.com. So when this soup popped up on their blog this week, I couldn't help but be drawn to it. The ingredients are simple, and the toughest part of the entire recipe is blending the finished soup into a fine puree. Plus, it has a decidedly tex-mex flavor, and at times might be mistaken as a corn chowder. 

I can't say that I've had anything quite like this before. Even on a hot day the soup was light and tangy enough to be delicious. The addition of the lemon juice at the end of the cooking process gave a pronounced and welcome tang to the finished dish, yet I think that lime juice might have been a better choice given the cumin and cilantro included in the dish.

The recipe is good as is, but I think with a few additions, it can go from good to great.While the rice did help create a creamy feel to the soup, I think that the next time I make this I may use cooked white beans to pump up the creamy texture and provide a shot of protein. Green chiles could easily fit as well. I also thought that some diced roasted red pepper and some tortilla strips would finish the soup perfectly. 

I have posted the recipe in it's original form but I hope to continue experimenting with this one. I will post any improvements to the dish as I perfect it. 

Creamy Summer Zucchini Soup

2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 to 10 cups chopped zucchini, crooked neck or patty pan squash
6 tablespoons uncooked white rice
8 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock (I used a combination of both)
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
sea salt or Herbamare to taste (I didn't use any)

Heat a 6 to 8-quart pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then the onion and saute for 5 to 10 minutes or until onion softens and is beginning to change color. Add garlic and cumin and saute a minute more. Then add chopped zucchini, white rice, and chicken stock. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until zucchini is tender and rice is cooked.

Add cilantro and lemon juice to the pot. Remove from heat and puree in your blender (or food processor) in batches. I like to toss in the whole bunch of cilantro to one of the batches after I have already pureed it some. This way the cilantro doesn't totally break down while you are pureeing the soup. Pour soup into another clean pot or bowl, stir batches together, and taste. If it needs a flavor boost, add Herbamare or sea salt to taste.