Tag Archives: Vegan

Vietnamese-style noodle salad

A couple months ago, when I came home from the doctor with a pamphlet on FODMAPs and a brain full of questions, one of my first (slightly panicked) messages was to my friend Ida. Not only had she gone through the same process a couple years earlier, but she’s one of the most wildly creative cooks I know. So I invited her to dinner and picked the heck out of her brain.

Of all the tips and resources Ida shared–and there were a lot–one thing stuck with me. Choose one meal, she said, that fits your dietary requirements, that you love, and that you can make with your eyes closed. That’s your go-to meal. When you feel like there’s nothing you can eat, make that. For her, during the strictest elimination phase, that meal was fajitas. For me, it’s Vietnamese-style noodle bowls.

This isn’t really a recipe–it’s a method. I start by soaking some dried rice vermicelli in near-boiling water for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I make a punchy dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and some sort of chile. Then I root through the fridge for cooked protein, raw vegetables, and fresh herbs, and cut everything up into strips or morsels. Finally, I drain and rinse the noodles and combine everything in a big bowl. (I’ve written out a more detailed description of my method and proportions below the post.)

This is the perfect thrown-together summer food. It’s light and crisp, savory and refreshing. The dressing, fresh herbs, and scallions make it intensely flavorful and exciting. It comes together in 20 minutes or less, without turning on the stove (except maybe to boil some water, and I’ve got an electric kettle for that). It fills me up without leaving a brick in my belly. It accepts whatever mishmash of veggies and meat I have in the fridge. And it’s easily tailored to even a fairly strict diet. I’ve been eating this at least twice a week for months now, making it differently every time.

vermicelli bowl 1

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Zucchini-basil soup

It’s funny the things we self-taught home cooks take as gospel. Leek tops, for instance. How many times have I read a recipe that says, “1 leek, white and light green parts only?” That great dark green headdress gets lopped off first thing, and then what? Occasionally someone suggests saving the greens for the stockpot, but otherwise they go unmentioned and unused. This has led to more than one of my friends believing that leek greens are inedible.

So let it be known: The green parts are edible! Leek tops are just as flavorful and useful as the bulbs. They’re a bit more fibrous, but that’s easy to get around by cooking them long enough. And they’ve got the same delicate, almost sugary onion flavor as the bulbs.

If you’ve got allium issues, look to leek greens–like scallion tops and chives, they are low in FODMAPs. But unlike scallions and chives, they’re sturdy enough to saute or sweat, which makes them an easy substitute for onions or leek bulbs in a lot of dishes. Anywhere you’d start with a saute of aromatics–perhaps a mirepoix, or just a simple onion base–leek tops can provide. The flavor is milder than onions, and the greens mellow to a muted green color when cooked. For soups and stews, particularly, I find them indispensable.

Take this soup. I had zucchini that needed using, and this Serious Eats recipe on my mind. The recipe calls for one large leek, and I knew the green tops would work just as well as the white bottoms. So I sliced up the greens from one splendidly headdressed leek, and cooked them low and slow in a covered pan with some olive oil until they softened and turned jammy. Add some zucchini, fresh basil, water, and seasonings, simmer for a while, blend, and voila–a simple, summery soup that comes together surprisingly fast.

zucchini basil soup 1

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Pressure cooker tomato sauce

Hello, I’m back! I took another little break from blogging, since life doesn’t seem to slow down these days. In the space of about six months, between the two of us, Sam and I have tackled new health issues, avalanches of work, and some pretty heavy family stuff. Oh, and there’s that wedding we’re planning. (60 days to go. Holy mackerel.)

I may write more about all this at some point–we’re still in the thick of it now. But in the meantime, I have a recipe to share. It combines two things that have recently shaken up how I cook and eat–for better and for worse.

First, the fun one. I have officially become an Instant Pot fanatic. We bought the six-quart model on Black Friday sale, and it’s now a fixture on our kitchen counter. Having an electric pressure cooker has converted me to the religion of the set-it-and-forget-it meal. I can toss a mishmash of ingredients in the Instant Pot, seal it up, and go back about my business. In an hour or so–less if I’m in a hurry, more if I’m not–there’s a piping-hot meal waiting for guests, or a batch of something versatile to portion and freeze.

I love this thing so much. So far I’ve used it for soup, stew, chili, rice, pasta sauce, two or three kinds of broth, and I don’t even know what else. Pressure cookers can safely cook meat even if it’s frozen solid, so I can pull a pack of chicken thighs out of the freezer at 6 PM and be eating them by 7 PM. And for hard-boiled eggs, this machine is basically unbeatable. (My new egg-boiling method, after much experimenting: 1 cup of water, steamer basket, 4 minutes at low pressure, 5 minutes natural release, ice bath. Easiest-peeling, creamiest-yolked eggs I’ve ever had.)

instant pot

Instant Pot, hard at work on my (messy) kitchen counter

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Smoky tea-braised lentils

In a world of coffee drinkers, Sam and I are tea fanatics. Our cupboards are bursting with tins and boxes, strainers and saucers. We drink black tea in the morning, green tea after dinner, and herbal tea late at night. We even have one of those fancy tea kettles that heats water to different temperatures for different types of tea.

I love cooking with tea–and with one tea in particular–almost as much as drinking it. Lapsang souchong tea is dried over wood fires, giving it a distinctive smoky flavor. Add some leaves or a bag to a pot of soup broth, and you’ve got something deeper and huskier than any non-meat broth I know. My new favorite trick? Cooking black lentils–sometimes called beluga lentils, because they resemble caviar when cooked–in a cauldron of smoky tea, tomatoes, and spices.

The recipe I adapted this from called for simmering everything together at once–lentils, tomatoes, the works. I’ve tried that, and don’t recommend it; the acid in the tomatoes keeps the lentils from softening. Instead, I use the method from my grandmother’s bean and tomato soup. In that recipe, you start simmering the legumes on their own, cook up a saucy tomato mix in a separate pan, then bring everything together towards the end of the cooking time. I added a handful of greens, too, which wilted down and made the whole dish more substantive.

At first taste, you might assume there’s meat in these lentils. It’s a nifty little trick, brought about by the marriage of smoky tea and glutamate-rich tomatoes. You could easily serve this as a standalone vegan meal–I have, and my omnivorous dinner guests loved it. If you eat eggs, these lentils are incredible with a poached or soft-boiled egg on top. And as with so many soups and stews, the flavor gets even better after some time in the fridge or freezer.

smoky tea lentils

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Spiced lentil turnovers

It’s phyllo central over here. Something about that golden, flaky crackle-crunch is really hitting the spot right now. And if I feel myself burning out on layered pies, there’s always the trusty triangle.

This particular recipe was my contribution to an Ethiopian-food potluck. It’s a riff on lentil sambusas, one of my favorite things to order at an Ethiopian restaurant. Picture an Indian samosa if that’s more familiar, but smaller and lighter, with a filling of gently spiced lentils. I love a good samosa, but the combination of pastry and potato always makes me feel like I’ve eaten a brick. Not so with sambusas–the best ones I’ve had are earthy but delicate, with a thin-and-crisp shell.

Normally, sambusas in restaurants are deep-fried. But I hate the mess and hassle of deep-frying, so I decided to bake my sambusas instead. As always, the challenge when turning a deep-fried food into a baked one is texture–it’s hard to really mimic that great golden crunch. Of everything I’ve tried, phyllo’s flaky crispness gets the closest.

I started with the classic triangle instructions on the back of the phyllo box, and added a sambusa-inspired filling of lentils and spiced, sauteed onions. You could make the filling all in one pot, but I decided to cook the lentils on their own and then fold in the spiced onion mix to keep the textures and flavors distinct. I used ordinary, cheap green lentils, but beluga or Puy lentils would be lovely since they keep their shape when cooked. Make sure to use plenty of butter or oil–it’s what gives these little pastries their color and crunch.

lentil-sambusas

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Candied citrus peels

Just under the wire before Christmas, here’s an edible gift idea: candied citrus peels. Start them tonight, and they’ll be ready by Saturday.

I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s probably my greatest kitchen love-hate relationship. On the one hand, candied citrus peels are incredibly delicious, a real show-offy gift, and a great way to use up food scraps. On the other hand, making them is labor-intensive. Not difficult or complicated–just a lot of f’n work.

That said, this is the kind of elaborate kitchen project that even a rank newbie can take on. All you need is a sharp knife, a pot or two, a lot of water and some sugar, and a place to set your peels to dry. Beyond that, what matters isn’t skill so much–it’s patience.

Below is a long, elaborate explanation of how I do this. The short version is: peel yourself some citrus and cut the peels into pieces. Blanch the peels in boiling water a few times. Simmer the peels in simple syrup for about an hour. Lay the peels out to dry for a day or two. Coat the dried peels in sugar or chocolate. Done.

I usually save citrus peels in the freezer and make a big batch of candy every few months. Every time, about 24 hours into the process, I wonder why I got myself into this. Then I take a nibble, and remember: oh, yeah. It’s because candied citrus peels are amazing.

candied grapefruit peel sugared

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Chili in a pumpkin

God, what a year. I wish I could share some neat, precisely turned summary of everything that’s happened since I last blogged here in April. My head is a stew pot these days, full to the brim with this and that, and I’ve been trying to simmer it all together into a coherent something for months now.

On a personal scale, things have taken a happy turn towards domesticity. Sam and I got engaged in March and courthouse-married in September. We’re planning a big family-and-friends wedding for next summer (don’t ask how that’s going). We bought a townhouse–I still can’t quite believe we bought a townhouse–and moved in at the beginning of November. And we adopted a cat, who as I type this is draped full-length across my lap, purring his glossy black head off.

Meanwhile, of course, the world around us swerved in a scary direction. Our personal happiness has been complicated by fear, anger, frustration, and sadness. I was mostly holding it together until the night of the US elections, but the result of the presidential race cracked me wide open. I’ve made my political opinions clear on this blog before, and what happened on November 8th was the worst of a worst-case scenario. It also exposed some fraying ends in my mental health that I’d been trying to ignore for a while. Like many people, I suspect, I’ve spent the past month and a half relying on a mix of therapy and home-grown self-care to keep afloat.

As usual for me, the home-grown self-care includes lots of cooking in our new kitchen. The weekend after the election, we invited friends over and fed them lasagna. I’ve been batch cooking and freezing lots of kitchen-sink stuff–soups, stews, and casseroles. And I got fancy one night and baked some chili in a pumpkin, a warming seasonal treat for Sam and me. This isn’t going to resolve the topsy-turviness of the world, but it’s nourishing, absorbing, and even kind of fun–just what I need these days.

chili-in-a-pumpkin

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