Archive | 2012

Dancing Taste Buds: Indian-Inspired Tofu Curry

Mmm, street food! Wherever you go in Asia, you’re sure to find some of the best food from the hawkers on the street…if you’re bold enough to try it. You’ll find these vendors on busy street corners, on boats in crowded canals, and in bustling night markets with their steamy carts lit by luminaries. The crowds around the most popular vendors might just convince you to overlook the guy at the next cart selling deep fried crickets – blehk!

This fragrant coconut milk-based Indian-style tofu curry makes me think of warm Bombay nights and a exuberant Bollywood movies bursting with vibrant tropical colors, smiles and dancing. It’s a delicious, thick, filling curry that’s oh so satisfying! And the tofu packs this dish with protein. It’s so rich that meat-eaters love it, as do vegans! And the chef in your family will like it too since it’s so easy and quick to make. I like to make this on my Bollywood dancing night – yes, I take a Bollywood dance class and I flipping love it! (You don’t believe me, do you? Well this is a photo of our last performance – that’s me on the bottom left.) The music is so happy and the choreography is so fun that I can’t help but laugh through the whole class. I have yet to get John to do a little Bollywood dance with me, but I’m persistent. One day, I swear I’ll get him to gyrate to a tabla beat!

I’ve adapted this from a recipe by the wonderful cookbook author, Andrea Nguyen. You can use regular curry powder, but if you have Madras curry, this dish really comes alive and adds a spicy kick that’s sure to make your taste buds dance!

Indian-Inspired Tofu Curry

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: about 15-20 minutes

2-3 tbsp canola or grapeseed oil
1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
14-16 oz. firm tofu cut into thin domino-sized/shaped pieces
1/2 tsp salt (I like using smoked sea salt – it adds so much depth, it’s delicious)
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots (drained and rinsed)
1.5 tsp curry powder, preferably Madras curry
2 tsp light brown sugar
2-3 small heads baby bok choy, cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 cup asparagus tips, sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh Asian-style herbs. Any of the following works great with this dish: mint, cilantro or basil. (Confession: I used all three and it was fabulous!)

Cooked rice, or cooked noodles (soba or udon are great with this)

If you have time, do this step with the tofu since it creates an interesting texture, but if you don’t have time, you can skip it: put tofu in a wide, shallow bowl. Mix in 1 tsp salt with 2 cups very hot water and pour over tofu. Let sit for 15 minutes, then drain and let sit on paper towels for 15 minutes.

Heat oil in large non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Fry shallots until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2-3 minutes until light and crisp. Add curry powder. Remove solid ingredients from pan and set aside, but don’t clean the pan. Add a little more oil and then saute the tofu, turning once, until golden – about 4-5 minutes. It won’t get crispy, but it’ll get golden around the edges.

Add the shallot mixture to the pan again, and add coconut milk, salt, bamboo shoots and brown sugar. Bring to simmer and cook 2-3 minutes. Add bok choy and asparagus and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with chopped herbs.  Serve with either rice or atop noodles. Then rejoice as your taste buds dance!

Celebrating Spring with Asparagus

Happy Norooz! The first day of spring is Persian New Year, or Norzooz, which is a great excuse to celebrate the profusion of beautiful flowers and tasty spring produce arriving at the market. Seeing all the fresh strawberries and asparagus making their first appearance of the season at the farmer’s market, I get all hyper and usually buy so much that I could easily feed a family of 12. Today’s recipe is for a super quick and easy, wonderfully tasty asparagus side-dish, which I will be making every night for the next week since I went a little nuts at the asparagus stand. It’s such an energizing season of renewal – I can’t help myself!

Speaking of renewal, my friend Joanne Marquez recently told me about an interesting “sustainability challenge” at the bank where she works: New Resource Bank in San Francisco. For the year-long challenge, Joanne chose to convert to vegetarianism. Some people looked at her a little funny, probably because most people don’t realize that going meat-free helps the environment. A 2005 University of Chicago study concluded: “Plant-based diets are healthier for people as well as for the planet.” Researchers compared the impact that vegetarian and meat-based American diets have on the environment and found that “…the average American diet – including all food processing steps – results in the annual production of an extra 1.5 tons of CO2-equivalent [in the form of all greenhouse gases] compared to a no-meat diet.” Adopting a vegetarian diet can make as much of a difference on the environment as switching from a standard sedan to a hybrid vehicle. That’s pretty substantial! So go Joanne!

But the benefits don’t stop there. Joanne admits that her new vegetarian diet is getting her to eat things that she would have never before tried! Same holds true for my converting carnivore husband who is being such a great sport about trying new dishes.

When I first met John, he’d never tried asparagus. It took him a while to get used to it, and for me to figure out how to make it most appetizing for him, but now he looks forward to the first tender shoots of spring asparagus as I do. Well, maybe I’m a little crazier for it than he is, seeing as how I just bought 5 pounds of it for the two of us.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Roasted Asparagus

From fridge to table: 15 minutes

Serves: 4-6

1 pound fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed off
1-2 tbsp olive oil (just enough to fully coat each asparagus spear)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Smoked sea salt to taste
A dash of ground coriander
A dash of ground sage

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together smoked sea salt, pepper, coriander and sage. Add the asparagus and oil and toss together to fully coat the asparagus. Arrange asparagus in a single layer in a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes (or 8 for the pencil-thin asparagus) until tender but still a little bit crisp. Serve hot.

 

Carnivore Blinded by Science: Harvard Study Links Red Meat Consumption with Increased Risk of Death

(For those who just want today’s recipe – Fake Beef Fajitas – feel free to skip bottom of the post…but for those who want to hear about a groundbreaking study about red meat and savor the wonderful taste of a satisfying victory over a carnivore, read on!)

Oh, the sweet satisfaction of defeating an opponent! I’m talking about our friend Drew – a brilliant world renowned scientist (and red meat fanatic) – who evilly launched Operation Enduring Meat in response to my efforts to help my husband convert to a meat-free diet. Harvard School of Public Health totally helped me out here. Their research scientists recently released the results of an extensive two-decades-long study about red meat consumption. Their findings: “Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality,” and added that there is “clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death.” The lead author, An Pan,  a research fellow at HSPH, says: “Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies.” The best part about this: Drew found this study on his own – I didn’t even have to rub it in his face since Harvard did that work for me. (Thank you Harvard!)

The study is pretty fascinating. Researchers followed participants for up to 28 years and found that eating the equivalent of one hot dog or two slices of bacon per day was associated with a whopping 20% increase in death. But what about unprocessed red meat, like say a small slab of grass-fed organic beef? Eating a very small serving (about the size of a deck of cards) of unprocessed meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of mortality. That’s quite significant!

The study estimated that 9.3% of the deaths of the men they studied and 7.6% of women could have been prevented had those participants adopted a red meat-free diet. It went on to say that replacing meat with healthy protein sources lowers your mortality risk. There’s a 19% reduction if you replace meat with nuts, 10% for legumes and 14% for whole grains. (It’s also 14% for poultry, but let’s not rain on my epic vegan parade, okay?) For the record, I’ve never tried to convert Drew into being a vegan, but once he launched his meat assault, the war was on. And I’m so happy to have won this latest battle!

Do you hear that sound? That faint sound of a brainiac meat-loving scientist screaming “nooooooooo!!!” in the distance is coming from our good friend Drew… being blinded by science! Ha ha! Sweet, sweet victory.

Funny, while Drew was telling us about this study and lamenting that “red meat is pretty much horrible on all levels – Oh God NO!” he was eagerly devouring an enormous bowl of my vegan African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas. Something tells me Drew will be over at our house more often now, but probably not to secretly slip John steak anymore. Woohoo! Score another point for Team Veg and Operation Carnivore Conversion.

In honor of this study and to help Drew overcome his attachment to meat, I’m going to make him Beefless Beef Fajitas using a soy-based beef substitute from Trader Joe’s. Since my carnivore didn’t notice the difference, neither will Drew, and neither will you!

 

Fake Beef Fajitas

From fridge to table: about 15 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil (if you can, use an oil that’s suited to high heat cooking, like grapeseed oil)
1 package fake beef (I used Trader Joe’s Beef-less Beef. My carnivore husband gave it a thumbs up and said “Ooo, that’s very edible! You can’t tell it’s fake in these fajitas.”)
1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin strips
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1/2 cup zucchini, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 package fajita seasoning (personally, I like to make homemade fajita sauce, but John likes the packaged version since he says it coats the fake meat better and helps fool his taste buds)
6-8 tortillas
In a large saute pan or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Slide in the onion and stir for 2 minutes, then slide in the bell pepper and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the zucchini and saute for a couple minutes to soften the zucchini. Add the mushrooms and fake beef strips, then add the package of fajita seasoning and 1/4-1/3 cup water (depending on your desired thickness of the sauce). Turn down heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the fake beef is heated through. Just before you’re ready to serve, drape a tortilla over the hot fajita mix to soften the tortilla, then spoon the fajita mix into the tortilla and serve. Enjoy!

Warming the Soul: African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

This divine, filling, utterly delicious creamy curried soup takes me back to Kenya when we arrived fresh off the plane at the stately ivy-covered English-style Giraffe Manor, which sits on the grounds of a preserve they created for endangered Rothschild giraffes. Expecting Africa to be hot, John and I were stunned to be shivering in our shorts and t-shirts. No matter how cold I was, I was not going inside until I fulfilled my dream of having a giraffe wrap his two-foot-long tongue around my head. But the kind chef noticed my goosebumps, urged me to come inside and made me a soul-warming, exotically spiced vegan coconut soup with chickpeas to thaw me from the inside out.  That soup was a miracle – it was like being wrapped in a velvet-lined fluffy jacket and was just what both John and I needed. While hungrily devouring it, an elegant mama giraffe stuck her head through a large open window, put her face next to my cheek and while locking my gaze with her medallion-sized eye,  she gracefully stretched her enormously long black tongue past my face to slyly scoop up some sliced fruit on a plate beside me. (When I saw her snake-sized tongue up close, I was rather glad that my tongue-wrapped-head dream didn’t come true.)  As awed as I was by her presence and her comfort with me, I found myself instinctively protecting my bowl of soup – yep, that’s how good it was!

I was so happy to find a very similar tasting soup in this recipe from the The Tropical Vegan Kitchen cookbook. I’ve modified it just a tiny bit to more closely approximate that divine soup that I had at the Giraffe Manor. It’s thick and filling enough to be a main dish, but can also be a great starter for seriously hungry people.

I am IN LOVE with this soup – its mellow curry flavor, the perfect way that the rice and tomatoes compliment the coconut milk, and the interesting flavors that warm my memories and my soul with each bite. Every time I have this soup, I half expect to feel giraffe breath on my neck, and I can’t help but protect my bowl…but this time it’s from John who likes this soup as much as I do. I hope you like it as well!

African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

From fridge to table: about 25 minutes
Serves: 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1.5 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
3 tsp curry powder
1 tsp smoked sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 14oz can coconut milk
3/4 cup cooked basmati rice
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

In a stockpot, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and japeleno; cook, stirring, until softened – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, salt and black pepper. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until heated through, about 4 minutes. Serve hot. Close eyes and imagine eating your soup with a giraffe standing next to you, possibly about to lick you and/or your bowl. 🙂

Pineapple Vinaigrette Makes To-Die-For Salads

It’s raining here today and I’m feeling sun-deprived. So how about we make a little pineapple sunshine for our taste buds?

In my constant struggle to get my husband to eat vegetables (according to John, “vegetables kill!” – now you see my challenge), I know my only hope is to make them irresistibly tasty. When it comes to salad, that means making a truly kick-ass salad dressing. I find that most of the store-bought dressings are, well, offensive. Many are made with things I can’t pronounce, and unfortunately so many of the organic ones lack interesting flavors. Blah doesn’t cut it on my dinner table and I doubt it does on yours either. Never fear, my friends. This Pineapple Vinaigrette will make your palate sing! It turns a boring salad into a spectacular feature dish that will have even vegetable-haters begging for more.

I’ve gotta give credit where it’s due: There’s a cool restaurant called Flatbread in Paia, Maui that has the best Pineapple Vinaigrette salad dressing on the planet, but unfortunately they will not share the recipe. Sadly, they were immune to my incessant pleas, tears and attempts at bribery. But by channeling RainMan with my taste buds, I think I was able to successfully deconstruct the dressing, or at least create a reasonable facsimile of it.

I hope you try it today – its sure light up your day with its sunny flavor. If you do give it a go, please let me know what you think!

Pineapple Vinaigrette

1/3 cup pineapple vinegar (I use one from “11 Olives” – it’s a white pineapple balsamic that is to die for. You can get it at http://www.11olives.com)
1.5 tsp tamari (tamari is a mellower version of soy sauce – find it at your grocery store in the soy sauce section)
1 tsp real maple syrup
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and pressed through the garlic press
1 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup light oil (such as canola) or flavored olive oil (www.11olives.com has ridiculously tempting flavored oils. The blood orange olive oil goes amazingly well with this dressing – I highly recommend it)
Whisk all the ingredients except the oil. I think it’s best if you can let it sit for two hours to let the flavors fully blossom, and then rewhisk it vigorously. If you don’t want it chunky, run it through a sieve and blend in the oil. Personally, I don’t run it through the sieve since the garlic, ginger and shallots add a lot of flavor over time, but if you don’t want to risk having bits in your salad, by all means sieve it. Enjoy!

 

 

Delicious Meatless Tamale Pie Fools Meat-Addicts


Ha ha, a seriously delicious tamale pie (which happens to be meatless) just fooled 5 hardcore meat-addicts! If any meat-impostor entree could dupe our Supper Club buddies, I knew it would be this incredibly flavorful, goey blend of ground meatless ground ‘meat’, salsa, refried black beans, onion, garlic and melted vegan cheddar cheese sandwiched between hearty polenta discs. People used to freak out about this dish when I made it with ground turkey and real cheddar, and now I’ve figured out some easy fixes to make it vegan – and it passed the meat-lover test by fooling our friends.

Our friends thought their incessant jokes about Operation Carnivore Conversion and my creative efforts to get my husband to go meatless had broken me. One of them even launched a counter assault called “Operation Enduring Meat” to thwart my efforts, and they thought I finally surrendered. Not sure why they’re so terrified of meatless meals – one of them was so worried that I’d serve her a vegan dinner that she called *three* times the day of our Supper Club dinner to ask if she could bring over steak. Seriously! Instead of destroying my resolve, I declared a secret all-out war and went all devious on their pork-worshiping butts. For the record, no, I did not feel bad lying to them and telling them that I had made them my famous tamale pie with ground meat when in fact I had used “beefless ground beef.” And yes, I relished every single moan of joy that came out of their mouths while they were devouring my vegan tamale pie and every single one of their comments that “fake meat is nasty.” Ha ha!

“So you guys like it?” I asked innocently. “It’s awesome! One of your best dinners ever!” they said. I waited until they had licked their plates clean before I slapped down a packet of beefless ground beef on the dinner table. “SUCKAS!” I exclaimed while doing a victory lap around the table of stunned vanquished carnivores. Serves my friends right for messing with me! One of them refused to believe it was true. Knowing that I don’t eat meat, she forced me to take a bite of the tamale pie to prove to her that it was made with faux meat.

So there you have it, Operation Carnivore Conversion wins the war! Damn, that victory lap felt great, and this tamale pie never tasted so good. 🙂

Meatless Tamale Pie

1 pound beefless ground beef (I used Trader Joe’s version, which worked great)
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1.5 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 15-16 oz can of refried black beans
1 15-16 oz jar of your favorite salsa
1/2 can of white corn (optional)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cups fake cheddar cheese (Daiya works great since it melts and stretches), or if you eat cheese, use sharp cheddar
2 rolls of prepared polenta, sliced into 1/3″ thick rounds. This is what packaged, prepared polenta looks like:

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large saute pan, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is beginning to turn golden and slightly brown around the edges. Add the fake beef and stir until it’s well integrated and warmed through. Add the chili powder and cumin, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the beans, salsa and corn and simmer (stirring frequently) until mixture thickens, about 5-10 minutes. Turn of heat and mix in cilantro.

Oil a large, high-sided baking dish (13x9x2 works well) and place half of the polenta rounds on the bottom. Heap on heavy spoonfulls of the tamale filling onto each round – it might end up running together to totally cover the polenta, which is fine. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Then put the remaining polenta rounds on top to cover it all, then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. This is what it looks like once you assemble it:

Bake for about 35 minutes until the dish is heated through and the sauce is bubbly, about 35 minutes. (Or bake refrigerated tamale pie, covered, for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 35 minutes or so until it’s bubbly).

Enjoy!

Spectacular Sangria

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the rough translation of sangria is: “awesome dinner party.” Is it a coincidence that John and I seem to have the most fantastic dinners with friends whenever we serve this spectacular sangria? Or that the food tastes extra delicious when accompanied by a big glass of this luscious, subtly sweet, ruby-colored nectar of the gods? I think not. And if you’re wondering what this has to do with Operation Carnivore Conversion, well, let’s just say that when John has a glass or three of this divine elixir, he’s far more willing to try new vegan dishes that he might otherwise deem as “suspect foods” when he’s not so well lubricated.

Whenever I make this, it disappears in a flash and everyone begs me for my secret recipe, and now I’m finally sharing it. Make some tonight and bring on the smiles!

Cimeron’s Spectacular Sangria

Serves: 6

– 1 bottle dry red wine – I’ve found that Italian sangiovese works best
– 1 bottle dry white wine – my favorite for this recipe is sauvignon blanc from New Zealand
– The juice of one lemon, preferably a meyer lemon
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 lemon, thinly sliced into circles or half moons and seeded
– 1 seedless orange, sliced into half moons
– A large handful of sliced strawberries, pineapple or nectarines

In a large pitcher, pour in the wines, sugar and lemon juice. Stir well until all the sugar has dissolved. Toss in the sliced lemon and orange. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight. An hour or so before serving, add the other sliced fruit (strawberries, pineapple or nectarines). When you’re ready to serve it, toss in some ice cubes. Enjoy!

Costa Rican Gallo Pinto for Meatless Monday

This recipe is dedicated to my friend Caryn who is looking for a crave-worthy, healthy dish that integrates grains and beans that even her kids will eat (without gagging or complaining).

Whenever I go to Costa Rica, I pretty much live on Gallo Pinto. I’m not joking. I eat it for breakfast and lunch and as a side dish with dinner. And now that I know how to make it, well now I pretty much live on it at home, too.  It’s a super tasty, very healthy traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua which is basically their version of rice and beans, but with plenty of flavorful twists. Translated, Gallo Pinto means something like “multi-colored rooster,” and that’s exactly what it looks like! Little bits of vibrant red peppers and tomatoes flash colorfully between black beans, white rice, flecks of green cilantro, caramel-colored onion and garlic. And it’s topped with the most delicious flavor found in Central America: Lizano Sauce! While this delectable mild pepper sauce can be found in the Hispanic section of many supermarkets around the world, don’t worry if you can’t find it – worcestershire sauce is a great substitute.  All the protein and deliciousness in this dish makes it the perfect food!

I’m not the only one who is in love with Gallo Pinto – my Carnivorous Crusader also adores it so much that he gladly forgoes meat to eat this zesty, filling dish. That automatically qualifies Gallo Pinto as a “magic dish” in my book! Especially for its versatility and universal likability. John likes it so much that it got him to stop sulking when I told him we were doing Meatless Monday – yes, that is the power of Gallo Pinto. Impressive, indeed.
A few years ago while we were kiteboarding in Costa Rica, the cook at the restaurant where ate every day – a lovely elderly lady with very few teeth named Maria – took me under her wing in her kitchen and taught me how to make her special version of this beloved Costa Rican dish. She spoke no English, and mi espanol no es buena, but luckily we spoke a common language: food.  Now whenever I make Gallo Pinto, I think of Maria and her joyful toothless smile, rainforests, volcanic waterfalls, cute Costa Rican three-toed sloths, and the big smile that I’m sure to get from my converting carnivore when he sees that I’m making Gallo Pinto for dinner (or breakfast, or lunch, or as a side dish). Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Gallo Pinto
Serves: 4 as a meal, or 8 as as side-dish
From cutting board to table: about 15 minutes if you’re a fast chopper! Personally I like to cook the rice a little longer in the pan to get some crispy bits, but that’s optional.
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 roma tomatoes, finely diced
1.5 cups black beans (drained and rinsed)
2 cups cooked white rice
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp salt (smoked sea salt if you have it)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2-3 tbsp Lizano sauce* or worcestershire sauce
*Lizano Sauce can be found in the Hispanic aisle in many supermarkets. But if you can’t find it, worcestershire sauce is a good substitute
In a non-stick saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic for 2 minutes. Add the red pepper and saute everything until the onion is translucent and a bit golden (3-4 minutes). Add rice and stir well until rice is heated through. (* optional – you can cook the rice a little longer to get some crispy bits at the bottom – yum – or you can just forge ahead. Your choice!) Add tomatoes and saute for 4 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan so the rice doesn’t permanently weld itself to your pan. Add the beans and stir for 2 minutes. Add the cilantro, salt, pepper and Lizano (or worcestershire sauce) to taste.  Serve hot and enjoy pura vida, Costa Rican style!

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!

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.