January 31, 2008

The slightly deranged vegan chef presents: Wait, What?

I'm having a phenomenal week for extemporaneous cooking. Last week I finally got terminally sick of frozen tamales and started forcing myself to actually cook again, thanks to which I have two new recipes to present to you: Walnut-Chard Risotto and Bloody Amazing Sweet Potato Curry.


If you're not already aware, please consider the fact that risotto is criminally easy to make. You just get the right kind of rice and then it's a matter of adding veggie broth a little at a time and stirring for a half-hour. So:

1 cup arborio rice
3 tbsp Earth Balance
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
4 cups veggie broth plus 2 cups water
1/4 cup walnuts (or more!), chopped
2-3 large chard leaves, chopped

Heat the broth and water together in a saucepan, and keep them hot on a back burner. Melt a tbsp of the Earth Balance in a shallow pan (really, you do not want the high-sided pot you would normally use for rice) and stir in the rice and garlic. Cook and stir on medium-high heat for a couple of minutes -- when the garlic starts to turn color that's plenty -- then ladle in a cup or so of hot broth. Stir, stir, and keep stirring. When the rice has soaked up most of the liquid, add more and repeat.

Keep adding ladlefuls of hot broth and stirring. Add the walnuts after about 1/3 of the broth has been added, and the chard after about 2/3 of the broth. When the rice is cooked through, stir in a couple more tbsp. of Earth Balance and, if desired, a splash of soymilk. Stir, return to heat briefly if necessary, and snarf.

Bloody Amazing Sweet Potato Curry*

One of my classmates today got so distracted by the smell rising from my leftover serving of this that instead of talking about our parks project we wound up talking about what spices I'd used. My powers are strong.

1 medium yam or sweet potato
2x2x4 block of very firm tofu
1/2 bunch, or 3 large leaves, green chard
1 regular can coconut milk (maximum fatness!)
3-4 green onions
canola or olive oil
every spice you own. I'm serious.
garam masala
black pepper
chili powder
red pepper flakes

Dice the sweet potato and start it cooking in a tbsp or so of oil in a deepish skillet over medium heat. It doesn't have to get all the way done, just progressing nicely. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch chunks and add it to the skillet. Start dumping spices on top: little pinches of cloves and nutmeg and coriander and pepper flakes, and bigger shakes of ginger and black pepper and salt. Pour on the cinnamon and garam masala and chili powder like it's fucking going out of style.
When the tofu is starting to get those nice little browned edges from the hot pan, chop the chard and add it to the pan. Give it just a minute or so, then pour in the whole can of coconut milk, and chop and add the green onions. Stir everything together and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the chard and sweet potato are fully cooked. Adjust seasonings to taste -- I wound up adding more cinnamon (much more!), red pepper flakes, and salt. Serve over jasmine rice. Beware: disrupts the learning process.

*Usage note: if you see the word "curry" and you want to reach for the turmeric, resist! Man, I can't stand that stuff. It's like red wine; sometimes I think it's going to be nice but then I taste it and feel let down for weeks. Anyway, this doesn't need any.

Posted by dianna at January 31, 2008 10:15 PM

1.) Risotto has the distinction of being easier to make than it is to pronounce correctly.

2.) While recipe #2 sounds quite good, I promise that I own spices that would ruin it. Although I own perhaps a wider variety of seasonings than most people.

3.) Man are you dead wrong about both tumeric and red wine. We might not be friends anymore.

4.) I should see what I can do about making some of my favorite recipes vegan and posting them on organicmatter. I'm reminded specifically of a butternut squash soup. Is there a really good vegan analogue for sour cream or crÃme fraÃche?

Posted by: Chris at January 31, 2008 11:45 PM

1. Really? How have I been mispronouncing it? It hasn't seemed too hard, but now I mistrust it.

2. Fine. Fine! If it comes to that, I do too; for instance, I left the parsley and dill right out. But just saying "every spice that seems remotely relevant" isn't as much fun.

3. Yeah, you're right, we might not. Red wine I will acknowledge as being nice to cook with and surely lovely for other people to drink, but turmeric (Wikipedia defends the extra R) is a plague upon the earth. People don't just sprinkle it here and there; they use it like, as I firmly believe, it really is going out of style.

4. Tofutti Sour Supreme is pretty good for your sour cream needs. Creme fraiche, in which I am not going to include the accent marks because I cannot pronounce them anyway, I don't know enough about to have any idea how one would substitute. If you're feeling bold, you could also try substituting plain soy yogurt. WholeSoy, which gets its butt kicked by other brands on the fruit flavors, has a plain variety that is second to none.

Posted by: Dianna at February 1, 2008 07:28 AM

1.) It's really the accent. Just pretend you're an old Italian lady: ri-SO-tho

2.) Parsley and dill are herbs, not spices.

3.) The people to which you refer are using it wrong. It's not a spice that should be overdone.

4.) I'll investigate; it has to be something that can stand on it's own in terms of flavor, has the buttermilk-y "bite" that cultured sour cream has, and would work as an accent to butternut squash.

Posted by: Chris at February 1, 2008 08:24 AM

1. This strikes me as a pedantic pronunciation complaint. It reminds me of the sort of people who go into an accent every time they use a word from a foreign languge. Which, admittedly, I do when I use a German word, but I don't yell at people for failing to do a Colonel Klink imitation when they talk about Bleistiftspitzer. When, indeed, they talk about Bleistiftspitzer.

2. I, too, have vast numbers of spices in my cabinet. Though not, surprisingly, garam masala. That's peculiar. I also don't have fenugreek, which came up when cooking something last week. I do, however, have asafoetida, which might possibly go well in this, in small quantities.

3. It's kind of hard, at the eating end, to tell whether someone used a lot or a little turmeric because three grains of the stuff will dye a gallon of curry sickly turmeric yellow, as well as your stomach, intestines, and anything else it ever comes into contact with.

That said: Ah-ha! Your distaste for turmeric makes sense. I remember you saying you didn't generally care for curried things several times in the past, which surprised me because you like Ethiopian food, and both Indian and Ethiopian are cuisines that are quite spice-heavy and which use a somewhat similar spice mix. I figured there must be something in the Indian spice mix that sets you off, and turmeric makes sense.

For myself, I'm pretty turmeric-neutral. I don't tend to notice it as having a particularly strong flavor and tend to see it primarily as a food coloring agent, as noted above. That said, I have an irrational hatred of onions, which causes a gag reflex when I eat them raw, so I completely understand having an idiosyncratic aversion to something otherwise innocuous.

4. This will sound incredibly crass, but in addition to the prior suggestions of Toffuti Sour Supreme and WholeSoy plain soy yogurt, you might try vegannaise or Nayonnaise, which are vegan versions of mayonnaise. Obviously, mayonnaise and creme fraiche are very different things, but vegannaise does have a similarly thick, cream texture that mixes well into liquids.

Posted by: MoltenBoron at February 1, 2008 09:30 AM

While we're being pedantic, the American Heritage Dictionary defines a spice as "any of various pungent, aromatic plant substances, such as cinnamon or nutmeg, used to flavor foods or beverages". I argue that if dill cannot be described as a pungent, aromatic, plant substance used for flavoring, nothing can.

I think the soy yogurt does a good job of standing alone and having a tangy wonderfulness about it. Then again, I go through at least one and a half 24-oz. containers of it every week and I may be biased.

Turmeric isn't innocuous in my book. In addition to the creepy yellow color it generates, it gives things a blah, warm, unzingy, too-much-generic-curry-powder flavor to which I deeply object. I recognize that terms like "blah" and "warm" are of limited usefulness to other people, but they do give me the satisfying feeling of having accurately described my turmeric experience. Bleah.

Posted by: Dianna at February 1, 2008 10:40 AM

1.) I am nothing if not pedantic.

4.) For the recipe in question, any vegan substitute for sour cream I might use has to taste good and fresh on it's own - it doesn't get mixed into the soup itself, but rather is mixed with a dash of lime juice and lime zest and deposited in a small dollop in the center of the finished soup, then topped with a fried sage leaf. Delish!

Posted by: Chris at February 1, 2008 06:05 PM

I'd go with the soy yogurt, then. The vegannaise is probably a different flavor than what you're going for, and the Tofutti Sour Supreme has a certain cream cheese texture to it. Which isn't surprising, since Tofutti's main product is vegan cream cheese. Which I love! But I'm significantly less enamoured of their Sour Supreme.

Posted by: MoltenBoron at February 1, 2008 10:10 PM