Archive | February, 2012

Divine Persian Pomegranate/Walnut Dish: Fesenjun

Ah, pomegranates, the fruit of my people! This is my favorite dish on earth. The slightly sharp spike of pomegranates adds a surprising hint of tartness and plush, dark fruit flavor to perfectly offset the richness of the walnuts and onion in this divine sauce, which is ladled over basmati rice (of course cooked the Persian style so that every single grain is a universe unto itself!) When cooled, you can also use it as a dipping sauce for pita bread, which makes a delicious appetizer. You don’t have to have fresh pomegranates to make this dish – all you need is pomegranate juice. In most Persian households, this dish is typically served with chicken or lamb, which according to my meat-loving husband is perfectly complimented by the deep pomegranate flavor and savory walnuts scented with saffron, but now that he’s making an effort to eat vegan meals, he actually loves it with fake chicken! (Personally, I like it without anything in it, but hey, if Captain Carnivore will eat it with fake chicken, I’m all for adding it).

Okay, so confession time: a few weeks ago I made Fesenjun for John with faux chicken and didn’t tell him it was fake meat. He didn’t notice. When I told him later, he didn’t flip out at all (bonus!) Instead, he said: “Makes sense that I didn’t realize it. The sauce is the star of this dish and it can really hide the fake meat well, so no wonder I didn’t miss the real meat with this.” That’s HUGE news for my Operation Carnivore Conversion efforts! If faux chicken in Fesenjun works for the Master of Meats, my bet is that it will work for you (or your meat-loving friends/significant others) as well.

While this dish doesn’t require fresh pomegranates, it’s a really nice touch to add a few fresh seeds as garnish. In many locations, they’re available well into February, but they usually disappear by March, so if you can, get a pomegranate and try this recipe soon!

I want to take a moment to remember and thank my sweet little Persian mother for introducing me to Fesenjun. She didn’t know how to cook when she came to America, which made for some funny and memorable meals when I was young. But after I had my first taste of Fesenjun in a restaurant and literally jumped up and down beside the table, she was determined to try to make it for me at home. And boy was that comical, but I loved helping her in the kitchen! Watching her try (unsuccessfully) to wing it and giggle while removing onion skins from the sauce, I started writing down various attempts including the ingredients and proportions, and then finding and trying various recipes with her. I credit my mother and Fesenjun for sparking the passion for cooking in me, and this recipe is the very first recipe I ever created. Whenever I make this dish, I feel like my mother is in the kitchen with me again and I can hear her bubbly laughter like she were still here, cooking right beside me and feeding me pomegranate seeds while I stir the sauce. As my mother would say, noosh-ee jan!

Fesenjun – Persian Pomegranate Walnut Sauce Over Rice

Prep and cooking time: about 1 hour and 45 minutes (but trust me, it’s worth it! And the vast majority of that time is just simmering time, and all you have to do is stir it every 20 minutes or so. So don’t be scared off by the time – it’s super simple to make.)

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
4 cups of pomegranate juice (get freshly squeezed juice if possible)
2 cups shelled walnuts (Trader Joe’s always seems to have the best price)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water (again, Trader Joe’s has the most affordable saffron that I’ve been able to find)
sugar (or raw agave sweetener), to taste
a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds
Fake chicken – optional
Freshly cooked basmati rice

In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. (If you don’t have a processor, just put the nuts in a blender and add 2 cups of the pomegranate juice and use the “puree” setting to grind up the nuts – the juice will help prevent the nuts from creating walnut paste at the blades.) Add all the pomegranate juice, cinnamon and saffron, and mix until it’s the consistency of a thin, watery smoothy. Set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions until they’re translucent and just starting to brown. Add the salt and stir well. Add the pomegranate/walnut mixture and stir well. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to simmer (on my gas range, that’s around #2 on the dial) – it should have a bit of a gentle boil going on. Cover the pot and cook for 1.5 hours. Be sure to stir it every now and then to prevent scorching (which can happen since the nuts settle to the bottom). The sauce will thicken considerably as it cooks.

After 1.5 hours, taste-test the sauce. Personally, I love the tartness of the pomegranate, but if it’s too sharp for you, add 1 tablespoon of sugar (or a few drops of the agave sweetener) and stir well. Keep adding sugar/sweetener to taste (but be careful not to overdo it). You’ll be surprised how much the sugar rounds out the flavors! Now take a stick blender and blend it until it’s smooth but still a tiny bit chunky. (If you don’t have a stick blender, you can do this in a regular blender or with a food processor). If using fake chicken, add it now and continue cooking the sauce until the faux chicken is heated through, which should take 1-2 minutes. Serve atop hot rice and sprinkle with fresh pomegranate seeds, which will make your dish beautiful!  Noosh-ee-jan!

p.s. When you refrigerate the leftovers, Fesenjun makes a delicious dip with pita bread the next day! So you can serve it as dinner one night, and an appetizer the next. Nummy!

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Teriyaki Pineapple Quinoa: a tropical vacation for the taste buds

Hi everyone! Sorry for the lapse in posting – the carnivore and I took a last-minute mini-vacation to Maui to kitesurf the huge waves and stand-up paddleboard with the humpback whales, which was amazing! With so much exercise, we worked up huge appetites every day and it was challenging to keep John away from animal-based foods. But luckily the tropics provided some great inspiration for a delicious new vegan dish that is incredibly flavorful, packed with protein, filling and utterly satisfying to Mr. Meatlover: Teriyaki Pineapple Quinoa. I tell ya, it’s like biting into a Hawaiian sunset! This recipe is simply bursting with flavor. Mmm, the vibrant, slightly sweet, sunshiny flavor of pineapple, tangy teriyaki, savory red peppers and green onions blend together with supergrain quinoa to produce a fantastic and unique dish that’s great for lunch or as a side-dish.

The secret ingredient is grilled pineapple. I like to marinate mine in teriyaki sauce overnight since it infuses into the flesh of the fruit so well, but when I leave my brain on the beach and forget to marinate, well, it still works great if you just drizzle it on the pineapple slices right there on the grill.

For some reason, anything involving a grill seems to make most carnivores grunt with delight (you’re picturing a caveman right now, aren’t you?)  And lucky for us, the grill makes the pineapple even more delicious by caramelizing the sugars in the fruit to produce a most luscious flavor. And with 20 grams of protein in just one cup of quinoa, this dish will provide you with plenty of fuel to recharge your muscles. I just made this dish again last night to see if my carnivore likes it as much at home as he did in Maui, and he did! “Anything with pineapple is awesome,” he said. Wow, the lure of pineapple even got him to eat quinoa, which I was scared he’d label a “hippie food,” but it looks like this recipe is truly a keeper with Captain Carnivore…and also with me!

Teriyaki Pineapple Quinoa

Serves: two as a meal, or 6 as a side-dish

From fridge to table: about 25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
6 oz (3/4 cup) pineapple juice (canned is fine)
1 1/4 cup water
2 tbsp soy
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped finely
2 clove garlic, chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 green onion (aka scallions), chopped, including white part
1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts or chopped cashews
1/4-1/2 cup of a thin teriyaki sauce for drizzling on the pineapple or for marinating

1 pineapple, skinned and cored, and sliced into 1/2″ thick slabs, drizzled with or marinated in teriyaki, then grilled. Then chop it up up to make 1 cup of diced grilled pineapple. (If fresh pineapples aren’t available where you are, you can grill up canned pineapple and it’s quite good).

Cook the quinoa first (and while doing that, you can also grill pineapple to save time – see below). In a medium saucepan, mix together quinoa, pineapple juice, water and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to simmer (on my range, that’s about a 2 on the dial) cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, which takes about 15-17 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered for 5 minutes. Then fluff with a fork and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat up the grill to medium-high. Place the marinated pineapple on the grill, or if you haven’t marinated it, just drizzle some teriyaki sauce on both sides of each slab. Grill for a few minutes until nice grill lines appear on the fruit and it’s getting slightly charred around the edges, then flip it and grill for a few minutes on the other side. It should look like this:

(Oh man, can’t you just taste the tangy, sweet grilled pineapple? I want some right now!)

Once you grill it, steal a slice while no one is looking – it is divine. It’s got a deep, lush, powerfully wonderful flavor. Chop up enough to make 1 cup and save the rest to have as a side dish for another meal – it’s so insanely good! Or just hide it in the back of the fridge so you can have it all to yourself when no one is looking. 🙂

In a fry pan, heat a little bit of olive oil – about 1 tbsp does the trick – over medium heat. Toss in the red pepper, jalepeno and garlic and saute for a few minutes until the red pepper turns orange. Add the nuts and scallion and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the cooked quinoa, basil and chopped grilled pineapple. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes more to blend flavors, then serve while hot. Take a bite and close your eyes as you are transported to a tropical beach where you’re listening to the waves lap the white sand beach, feel a warm, ginger-scented breeze on your face and watch whales frolic as the sun sets on another perfect day in paradise.

Zesty, Tomatoey, Gooey Hot Dip Makes Even a Bacon Fanatic Smile

Mmmmm, The Goodness! Just look at this luscious, piping hot pan of joy! Can’t you just taste the zesty, sock-it-to-you rich blend of baked tomatoes perfumed with bay leaves and accented with sauteed onion, garlic and gooey mozzarella fresca (or vegan Daiya mozzarella) melting in your mouth? And can’t you just feel that satisfying crunch of crusty sourdough bread that’s been dipped in this divine sauce?  Once you try this dish, you’ll see why I’ve named it “The Goodness.” My meat-loving husband often requests The Goodness for dinner and it makes for a nice intimate meal, sitting shoulder to shoulder and hovering over the pan together like hyenas devouring a carcass. It’s also a fantastic and fun appetizer when you have friends over.

I get a lot of flack from our smart-ass carnivore friends who enjoy tormenting me over my efforts to convert my husband into a vegetarian (shhh, I’m actually hoping to turn him into a vegan eventually!) But I’ve noticed that whenever they come over and I tell them that I’m making them The Goodness, they shut the heck up. The Goodness has special powers over meat-lovers! It even recently inspired a die-hard bacon fanatic to declare: “Wow, this is actually reeeeeally good!” That’s high praise from a man who would sooner eat a bacon-wrapped piece of plywood than a cucumber.

So suck it, smart-ass carnivore friends! And please enjoy your foray into vegetarianism with The Goodness. 🙂

The Goodness

Serves: 2-3 as a main dish, or 6 as an appetizer

From fridge to table: about 30 minutes (but don’t worry – it’s super simple to make)

Ingredients:

1 14 oz can Muir Glen organic fire roasted diced tomatoes (if you want a kick, use the one with green chilies. Yowza!)

1 14 oz can Muir Glen organic tomato sauce

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 bay leaves

1-2 tbsp olive oil

1 tub of tiny mozzarella fresca balls, OR to make it vegan, use Daiya* vegan mozzarella and sprinkle into little rounds on top

1 sourdough baguette, sliced

* Personally, almost all fake cheeses make me gag – literally, I gag, run for the bathroom and scrape my tongue.  But for this recipe, Daiya works incredibly well and is actually (dare I admit it) tasty! Unlike other fake cheeses, Daiya melts and stretches, which is necessary for this recipe. Given that mozzarella is a naturally mild-flavored cheese, this works well in Daiya’s vegan format. You can get Daiya at Whole Foods, natural food stores, and now it’s showing up in mainstream grocery stores, too.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In a high-sided, large oven-safe saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, garlic and bay leaves until onions are translucent. Turn heat down to medium. Add tomatoes. Simmer and stir for a few minutes to blend flavors. Turn off heat. Drop mozzarella or Daiya on top and then put the whole thing in the oven, uncovered. (After about 20 minutes, put the bread in the oven to heat it up and make the top crunchy.) Bake The Goodness for a total of 25 minutes or until golden on top and slightly bubbly. Serve with the hot bread. Enjoy!

 

All-Star Appetizer: Roasted Bombay Masala Potatoes with Vegan Lemon-Garlic Aioli

With the Superbowl coming up, it’s time to whip up some tasty crowd-pleasing appetizers, and my Roasted Bombay Masala Potatoes with Vegan Lemon-Garlic Aioli is on our “All-Stars of Appetizers” list. Every time I serve this, people hoover it up, and bonus: it’s a belly-filler. See, I’ve found that when carnivores have that full-belly feeling, they don’t feel like they “need” meat after they eat something satisfying like this appetizer. Friends beg me to make this and John craves it – I bet this will become a staple in your house as well.  The Indian-spiked potatoes are just slightly crispy on the outside and buttery-soft on the inside and they have just the right balance of spicy-heat and fragrant mouth-watering flavors. And the lemony, garlicy aioli is lick-the-bowl good and is the perfect marriage with these spectacular potatoes.

I’ve made the aioli with real mayonnaise and with Vegenaise, and no one can tell the difference. So since real mayo is disgusting and vile, I only make this with Vegenaise now (and no, I do not bother telling the carnivores that it’s vegan. They wouldn’t be able to hear me over their very loud groans of pleasure anyway. But I do derive secret joy in duping those who say they hate ‘vegan food.’ Hehehe.) (Yes, that was an evil laugh).  I mean, check out this photo of the aioli – you totally can’t tell that it’s made with Vegenaise, can you?

So kickoff your Superbowl festivities (or any other night of the week) with these awesome potatoes and dipping sauce. Please let me know what you think by posting a comment!

Roasted Bombay Masala Potatoes

Serves: 6

From fridge to table: about an hour

2 pounds small organic yukon gold “creamer” potatoes or fingerling potatoes, chopped into 2″ cubes with skin on (personally, I like the yukon gold creamers the best since they have such a creamy, buttery flavor)
3 tbsp olive oil
1-1.5 tbsp Bombay Masala seasoning – you can purchase the very best from http://www.DilKhush.com, or you can make your own by mixing:
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne

Vegan Lemon-Garlic Aioli:
1/3 cup Vegannaise (available at Whole Foods in the refrigerated aisle)
the juice of 1/2 of a fresh lemon (or more if you’re a lemon-freak like I am)
3 tbsp chopped fresh chives
5 garlic cloves, minced

Preheat oven to 425.
Mix the chopped potatoes with olive oil and Bombay Masala seasoning.  I’d recommend going easy on the seasoning for the first time you try this and adding more at the end if you like. Be sure that each potato is coated with oil. Put potatoes on a cookie sheet (a cookie sheet with sides) in a single layer and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for about an hour, and be sure to stir the potatoes every 15 minutes for even browning. You can tell when the potatoes are done – they’ll be slightly browned (like in the photo below) and are a bit crispy on the outside edges but still tender in the middle. (Careful when you bite into the potatoes to test them – it’s like napalm in your mouth when they’re right out of the oven).  When they’re ready, add more salt and Bombay Masala seasoning to taste.

Meanwhile, make the aioli by mixing all the ingredients together. In my opinion, there is no such thing as “too much lemon” but you may want to add 3 tbsp of lemon juice and add more to taste. I like letting it sit out at room temp for 30-60 minutes to allow it to get a little creamier as it warms up a bit.

Serve the potatoes while they’re hot and be sure to have lots of toothpicks out so people can dip the potatoes in the aioli. Then prepare yourself to be knocked over by a loud symphony of ooohs and ahhhs!

Kale Chip Fail

Damn. Today I pressed my luck and got The Face from John.

In retrospect, I should have recognized how risky it was to try to replace his beloved barbeque potato chips with homemade kale chips. John has eaten potato chips with his lunch pretty much every single day since he was old enough to chew, so I shouldn’t have underestimated his resistance to disrupting his lifelong routine, nor his undying love for Lays. But a lady I met in line at the Farmer’s Market went on and on about how much her picky, fast-food loving children love kale chips and beg her to make the chips for them, so figured it was worth a try.

I thought: “Hey, kale chips are crispy and salty too, so maybe he won’t notice!” Plus, they’re nutrient-rich and have a wonderfully unique flavor. He should love them, right? WRONG.

With a look of grave dismay, he started at the crispy dark green intruder on his plate, apparently trying to vaporize it with his intense glare. Caving to my pleas, he agreed to try one, or rather, a 1 square millimeter corner of crispy kale. ‘That is seriously disgusting,” he declared. “It’s worse than the dried seaweed strips that they always try to get me to eat when I’m in Japan.”

Oh well, I guess that means more kale chips for me! Since the vast majority of people who try kale chips love them, I’ll still include the recipe just in case you’d like to try it, too. If you try them, please post a comment to let me know how you like them. But if you’ve got a die-hard potato-chip lover like John who you’re trying to convert into being a kale chip fan, prepare yourself for a potential face-off with The Face!

Kale Chips

1 bunch kale, center rib removed and leaves torn into large chip-sized pieces (personally, I like using dinosaur kale for chips since the texture lends itself well to this recipe)

1-2 tbsp olive oil

Smoked sea salt*, to taste

Optional: lime, or brown sugar, or chili powder

* Smoked sea salt imparts an incredibly smoky flavor that is just simply delicious. I get mine from www.SpiceHound.com.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Completely dry the kale – this is essential or else it won’t turn out crispy. Toss kale with olive oil and spread out in single layer on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt. If using lime or chili powder, sprinkle it on sparingly. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until kale is crispy. If using brown sugar (which creates a lovely and subtle salty-sweet flavor), sprinkle it on after removing the kale chips from the oven.