CSA Summer Cookdown #2: Collard Greens & Everlasting Spinach

After the other night’s CSA-driven feast of Eggplant Parmesan, green beans, and cucumber salad, we decided to use up our copious cache of onions on a French Onion Soup. We’d received two large batches of greens–one batch of everlasting spinach, which isn’t actually spinach at all, but rather a form of beet green (perpetual beet), which will grow well into the fall after spinach is long gone–and one batch of collard greens.

We just recently experimented with beet greens to fairly nice effect, so we decided to try out the everlasting spinach first. You cook this pretty much just like standard spinach. For this batch, we sauteed 4 cloves of garlic in olive oil. Once the garlic began to brown, we tossed in the spinach and cooked briefly–be careful, these cook quickly and you really just want to soften them a hair. If you cook them too long, they can get a little slimy. Salt and pepper to taste.

While raw, these aren’t as tasty or tender as real spinach. Cooked, however, they actually hold up a little better and are very flavorful. What’s great about this variety, is that they have a very long growing season, much like kale. These would be a great addition to a summer/fall salad garden.

Two nights later, we had the French Onion Soup leftovers and decided to once again supplement the soup with greens–this time the collards. We’d had collards out at restaurants on occasion, but for some reason had never picked any of our own up to cook. Having them forced upon us by virtue of the CSA share, we finally delved in.

Collards have large, soft leaves. If you’re into doing a fully raw wrap or taco, our friend Andy T pointed out, these are ideal for the tortilla/shell/pita.

Since we were doing a soup, we wanted to revisit something similar to the other night’s greens. We cut out the stalks and sliced into large pieces. Like the previous time, we sauteed garlic in olive oil, but this time tossed in almond slivers, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and crushed red pepper. I don’t know where the inspiration came from, but these are some massively addicting greens!

I’ll post the actual recipe here, because we love it that much:

Kickin’ Collards

  • 2 bunches of collard greens (probably 8 leaves), stemmed and chopped coarsely
  • 4 large cloves of garlic (1 for each 2 leaves), diced
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup of slivered almonds
  • ~1 tbsp olive oil
  • ~1 – 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • ~ 1 tsbp soy sauce (to taste)
  • 1 -2 tsp crushed red pepper (depending on how spicy you want this)
Start by sauteing the garlic in a large pan in the olive oil over medium heat. Once the garlic just begins to brown, toss in the almond slivers and the sesame oil. Let the almonds cook down for about 3 – 5 minutes, then toss in the greens and soy sauce, coating well. Like most greens, these don’t need to cook long–you just want to get them fully imbued with flavor and hot–not soggy at all. Dash with crushed red pepper to taste.
Prepare to love greens more than you ever thought possible.

CSA Summer Cookdown

Some excellent friends recently entrusted their cats feeding/watering/nuzzling to us for a week while they’re on vacation. Since they wouldn’t be around to use it, they kindly left us their CSA share as well.

For folks who don’t know, a CSA–Community Supported Agriculture–is a program offered by local farms to essentially sell folks a share of their produce over the entire growing season. This is awesome on many levels:

  1. You’re contributing to local farms and the local economy.
  2. You’re investing in the farm in advance–this allows them to secure the resources they need and provides them with a modicum of security in what can sometimes be an uncertain profession. If they have a great growing season, you reap the rewards. If it’s a tough season, you help shoulder the burden.
  3. You learn to eat seasonally. You get a lot of produce–and you get whatever is growing at the time. This means you only get asparagus for a month and that you don’t get tomatoes until July. Spinach comes pretty early, then lettuce, then various greens like collards, and finally kale (okay, our garden kale came in just after the lettuce). Instead of cooking what you want, you cook what you get.
  4. You save money. Family shares are around $500 – $600 for about 20 weeks. While this sounds like a lot–and is a sizable investment–it actually breaks down to only $25-30/week. If you eat as much organic produce as we do, this is actually pretty cheap. Of course, the shares in those early weeks are pretty slim compared to what you get once everything is in full swing.
Despite these myriad and overwhelming virtues, we’ve never actually purchased a CSA share. We travel a lot in the summer, and we have gardens of our own, so it’s never quite worked out. Our newest resolution is to split a large share–this is a great way to share with friends who also like to travel and/or who also have gardens.
But I digress. The real lowdown is what we did/are doing with an entire CSA share as well as the food from our gardens and the food from our friends’ garden. Here’s what we got from the CSA:
  •  1 large eggplant
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 smaller tomatoes
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of collard greens
  • 1 bunch of everlasting spinach
  • 1 bag of green beans
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 1 quart (roughly) of potatoes
  • 2 bunches of basil
  • ~6 cucumbers
  • 2 small summer squash
  • 2 shishito pepper
  • 1 large red pepper
  • garlic
  • purple and white onions
  • crimini and shitake mushrooms
Add to this another 6 – 10 cucumbers, 15 jalapenos, and an assortment of small, hot peppers from our friends. Also add to this a few of our own heirloom tomatoes, tons of cherry tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, basil, cilantro, and kale from our own garden, and we’ve got a veritable produce storm on our hands.
We began our attack by making a salsa out of a large heirloom and several smaller tomatoes, purple onion, and cilantro. We moved on to the eggplant–which we’ve had mixed luck with over the years–and made an eggplant parmesan. Here’s how:
Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

Grilled Eggplant

  • 1 large eggplant (male, I think), sliced into disks, about 1/4 inch thick
  • olive oil
  • 1 handful of fresh basil, diced
  • 1 batch of chik’n almond bake (you’ll need nu yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and almonds/almond meal handy)
  • homemade parmesan (optional–you’ll need nu yeast and sesame seeds for this)
Pour the olive oil into a shallow bowl and the almond bake into another (do this in batches, refilling). Have a plate or pan ready to place the eggplant on. Mix some basil in with the olive oil (you’ll need to replenish the oil frequently–eggplant soaks up a lot of oil). Once the eggplant is coated with oil on both sides, toss in the almond bake, coating well, then place on plate/pan. Repeat for remaining eggplant, refilling the oil and almond bake as needed. Grill at ~400 degrees Fahrenheit, until both sides are browned and crisp, about 5 minutes to a side.
Top with this sauce:
Savory Summer Tomato Sauce
  • 2 gigantic or 6 small tomatoes, diced, but not de-boogered
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 – 2 hot peppers, seeded and diced (optional, but the heat cooks down)
  • 1/2 – 1 HEAD of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 peach, diced
  • olive oil
  • 1 – 2 handfuls of fresh basil
  • ~1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • ~1/4 cup red wine
  • salt (we used a combination of sea salt and smoked alder salt, to give it a little rich smoky undertone and counterbalance the peach)
In a large saucepan or pot, sautee the garlic in olive oil over medium heat. After a few minutes (before the garlic has browned), add in the peppers. Once the garlic begins to brown, add in the tomatoes, peach, and wine, stirring well. Let it cook down until it starts to thicken, then add in the herbs and salt.
Serve the sauce over top the eggplant, on pasta, or on both.
We rounded the meal out with some fresh steamed green beans (tossed in Earth Balance, salt, pepper, and garlic powder) and a refreshing cucumber salad, as follows:
Simple Cucumber Salad
  • 1 large cucumber, cut into small pieces
  • ~10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • ~2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 handful of basil, chopped
  • 1 tsp truffle oil
  • sea and truffle salt
  • black pepper
  • drizzle of balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • 1/4 purple onion, diced (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, then salt and pepper to taste.

Not bad for our first pass at CSA living! Up tonight, French Onion Soup and spinach greens.

Designer Imposters #1: Pizza a la Denver’s City O’ City

On our recent Southwest road trip, we found ourselves hurling through the Rockies in the early dark of night, heading toward Denver. The drive started pleasantly, heading Northeast out of Arches National Park in Utah, along the Colorado River. The mountains were unbelievably large. I mean, there are mountains, and then there are mountains. But as night fell, the majesty gave way to anxiety; driving in the mountains at night, around blind curve after blind curve, wreaks havoc in the nerves. And arriving famished in a strange town at 11pm is rarely a good thing.

So imagine our elation when we arrived at City O’ City, an all veg pub with a kitchen serving vegan pizza and wings. Imagine our ecstasy upon receiving this:

This is hands down the best vegan pizza we’ve ever had at a restaurant. They offered both Daiya ™ and their own house-made cashew ricotta. And I hope this redeems our guilty pleasure a bit–we went with the cashew cheese. It was awesome. The pizza we got was the “animal lover’s”–carmelized onion, regular onion, green peppers, sausage-style seitan, and pepperoni-style seitan (also both made in-house).

We’ve been vegan for a long time. I was already vegetarian by the time I could drink legally, and already vegan by the time I started grad school, when I found myself chained alternately to a desk and a bar stool. For years I watched my friends and colleagues order delicious pub pizza at the end of a drunken night, jealous and salivating. And finally, years later, City O’ City has scratched that age-old itch. We ate amazing pizza, with beers, late at night.

And it was amazing vegan pizza. With hand-made ingredients.

Suffice it to say, this blew our minds (and our bellies).

Suffice it to say, we had to replicate this.

And lo and behold, replicate it we did!

Be forewarned–this ones takes some serious prep, but you can double up to save ingredients for a second pizza later or, better, make a few pizzas with friends and beers.

There are five key components to this pizza: the cheese, the sauce, the crust, the sausage, and the pepperoni. Let’s tackle them in order.

The Cheese

This is pretty much an augmented version of our standard cashew cheese, but with a bit of nu yeast and vegan parmesan.

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked 5 hours or more
  • 1/4 cup (or a little more) water
  • 1/2 tsp (or more to taste) salt
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp vegan parmesan
Blend all ingredients until smooth, then refrigerate for at least a half hour (preferably more) before using.

The Sauce
We kind of cheated on the sauce. We bought a simple pre-made sauce (Eden Organics ™–they’re local to us) and doctored it a bit. City O’ City had a delicious, tangy sauce, with mild chipotle flavor. So, not surprisingly, we just added a little chipotle chili powder and a bit of sugar to sweeten the sauce a bit.

  • 1.5 8oz cans of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
The Crust
We adapted this recipe from VegWeb for the crust, doubling it and modifying a bit.

  • 2 tbsp yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • a touch of agave or sugar (to feed the yeast)
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil (we used safflower)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (plus some for sprinkling on your rolling surface)
Preheat oven 425 degrees Fahrenheit (with the pizza stone in the oven, if using). Mix the yeast with the lukewarm water and sugar/agave until the yeast is dissolved and let stand for a few minutes. Add in the oil and salt next, then mix. Add in the flour in increments, mixing between each addition. Sprinkle pizza stone (or pan) and rolling pin with flour, then roll the dough out directly onto the stone/pan. Bake for 5 minutes (before you add any sauce or toppings) then brush with olive oil.

The Sausage
City O’ City used seitan for both the sausage and pepperoni, but we prefer to use different types of faux meat for recipes that traditionally call for multiple meats (like gumbo, for instance). So we went with a tempeh sausage (though I’m sure a seitan style sausage would be awesome–City O’ City’s sausage and pepperoni both kind of tasted the same, truth be told).

  • 1 package of tempeh, torn into sausage-y size bites
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 1.5 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
Tear the tempeh into pieces in a large bowl. Mix everything but the tempeh in a small bowl. Pour the mix in the tempeh, little by little, coating all of the tempeh thoroughly. Refrigerate and let marinade.

The Pepperoni
We also kind of cheated on this one. We used previously-made Italian-style brats and created a marinade for them. The result was pretty amazing, actually. But generally, we’d probably make this from scratch. FatFree Vegan Kitchen has a great recipe. So does Vegan Dad. There are lots. But, if you happen to already have some homemade Italian-style brats on hand (and why wouldn’t you?), this is a great shortcut.

  • 2 Italian-style brats
  • 1.5 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, ground coarsely (using a mortar and pestle)
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard seed
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly/coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp Liquid Smoke ™
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste

In a shallow container, mix everything but the seitan. Once mixed, toss the seitan, coating well. We use a sealable container and shake it thoroughly. Refrigerate.

Putting it all together

Cut whatever veggies you’d like into whatever size pieces you like. We used white button mushrooms, thinly sliced; peppers, diced; fresh basil, diced finely; and purple onion, cut into rings, then halved or quartered, half raw and half caramelized.

Once the crust has been pre-baked and oiled, you’re finally ready to assemble this beast. Spread the sauce on the crust first. Next, dollop on the cashew cheese, then spread gently (it’ll mix in with the sauce a bit, but that’s okay). Add all of the toppings, then drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 – 14 minutes.

Get ready for the awesomeness.

Summer Scapes

Garlic scapes, that is. Never heard of ’em? We hadn’t either until Amy recently stumbled upon them in a blog post (which we cannot, for the life of us, locate–thank you anonymous vegan blog–you are a true unsung hero).

Garlic scapes (the long curly green stalks in the picture above) are the young stems from growing garlic. They are harvested before the plant matures, and are packed full of delicious garlicky flavor–though not quite as intense as the garlic itself. They are seasonal, and thus are well worth grabbing when you happen upon them. They may seem a bit pricey, but a little bit goes a long way, and they last for quite a while in the fridge. We’ve been using them in everything lately.

Also pictured above, the first heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market! We’ve been jones-ing for some real, fresh, local tomatoes, and these were just the ticket. Also pictured above: garlic from the farmer’s market and fresh herbs from our own garden.

We’ve also begun harvesting green beans and zucchini, not to mention the lettuce and kale that have been growing like champs since early-mid june.

As you might expect, the first thing we did with the tomatoes was to make a salsa, using up a handful of our extremely abundant cilantro). We used said salsa with loads of our lettuce for a new variation on our taco salad (post forthcoming!).

Apparently, the thing to do with scapes is make pesto, so we tried out this. It was pretty tasty, like a thick garlicky tahini (on account of the roasted sesame seeds). As good as it was, it still needed something, so we added in a handful of basil from the garden, which definitely did the trick. We used  it (and some cherry tomatoes) to make pesto pasta:

This is pretty much just cooked wheat penne, tossed in olive oil and the pesto, with a few sliced cherry tomatoes. Simple!

The next night, we used those afore-mentioned heirloom tomatoes to make raw caprese salad, served with fresh green beans (boiled until al dente, then tossed in garlic, salt, and pepper) from our garden, and a fantastic blend of roasted veggies from the farmer’s market: beets (purple and gold), scapes, onions, garlic, carrots, zucchini, and summer squash.

Historically, I haven’t been a huge fan of beets, but these were out of this world! In combination with other veggies–especially the garlic, onions, and scapes–they were tender and savory, not at all too sweet. The preparation was simple: just chop the veggies into large-ish pieces, douse in safflower oil and a bit of red wine (key!), and sprinkle generously with fresh minced rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Salt and pepper to taste.

We were so taken with the roasted veggies, we had a very similar meal a few nights later. We made the same veggies, but this time used the beet greens, as well as some okra–which is also currently in season–in a saute with noodles cooked in veggie stock Earth Balance.

Beet greens are actually quite tasty–somewhere between collards and spinach–soft and savory, but just a tad more bitter and tough than spinach. They can be prepared just as you would collards or kale.

Stay tuned for more summer veggie action!

The Greatest Stir Fry Ever Told

…well, the greatest stir fry ever told by us at least.

A few weeks back, we stayed with our pals Jeremy, Beth, and their adorable daughter Adelle. Jeremy, a roommate and bandmate from days of yore, and an excellent cook, was kind enough to prepare a stir fry for us. We sous-chef’d, picking peas from his garden and chopping up some veggies, while he prepared the stir fry. Everyone seems to have their own stir fry method, especially when it comes to tofu, but Jeremy’s seems the simplest and best: cut the tofu into small cubes and keep it moving in the pan. There’s something about a wok that makes you really want to keep things moving, especially since you can just toss it around, flipping stuff in the pan without needing a spatula. He cooked the tofu (in soy sauce, sesame or peanut oil, and teriyaki, I think) for a while, getting it nice and browned, before adding the veggies in–just for a few minutes–at the end, along with a large spoonful of peanut butter. The tofu was very firm and everything was flavorful and crisp.

This is very similar to stir fries we’ve made in the past–the ingredients are pretty much the same, in fact–but the effect was much better. Here’s what we used:

  • 1 lb of tofu, cut into approximately 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 medium-sized white onion
  • 3 stalks of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into small pieces (1/2″ tops)
  • 1 pint of snap peas
  • 1 handful of chopped purple cabbage
  • 6 – 8 medium-large crimini or white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into triangles
  • 1 – 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp fermented soy bean paste (go easy on the soy sauce if you’re using this)
  • 3 – 5 tbsp red chili paste (the kind made of pure chilis, with the seeds)
  • sesame oil
  • soy sauce
  • teriyaki

We don’t have a wok, but I thought we could still apply some of the same ideas. First off, we cut the tofu smaller than I normally would. This creates more surface area, and thus firmer, tastier tofu. We also stirred and flipped everything almost constantly. This prevents the tofu from sticking to the pan, which will brown it, but also can cause it to rip and can leave you with a firm outside but too soft of an inside. And while Jeremy didn’t make a point about this, I’ve noticed recently that soy sauce makes your pans sticky (I’m not sure if this is also true of woks). As such, we mainly cooked the tofu in sesame oil, with just a dash of soy sauce and terriyaki at the beginning. There was no stickiness, and adding the soy sauce and terriyaki later still made everything flavorful. We cooked the tofu for about 15 minutes before adding in mushrooms, onion, and carrots (all of the stir fry items that you want to soften a little), and then probably cooked for another 5 before adding in the red bell pepper. After about another 5 minutes, we added in the broccoli, snap peas, and cabbage. We only cooked these a few minutes–until the broccoli was just softened a little (Amy actually thought it was a little too crisp). We stirred in the peanut butter, soy bean paste, and red chili paste at the end, rounding out with a little teriyaki. We served it over brown rice, which we started in 1949, so it would be done in time (always start the rice first. always. start the rice before you even know you want stir fry).

The result was pretty stellar–our best stir fry to date! We are slowly peeling back the Asian culinary veil.

Southwest Road Trip: Santa Fe

After the mind-numbing drive through Oklahoma and the Texas pan-handle, we finally made it to Santa Fe, just as the bachelor/ette parties were kicking off…but not before passing one of the largest crosses in the Western hemisphere, just outside of Amarillo, TX.

This is just past the “Jesus Christ Is Lord(… not a swear word) Travel Center” truck stop.

Texas, you are a mystery to me.

Suffice it to say, it was a relief when we finally entered the far more scenic desert (which actually starts in West Texas, just after Amarillo).

And did you know that New Mexico has mountains?!

For some reason, I’d been expecting a flat sandy desert, with those bent-arm cactii. It turns out there’s a lot of brush, there are mountains, and that it gets cool at night. Because of its high altitude (7000 feet above sea level), the air is thinner and the sun is more brutal. This makes you a cheap date, because alcohol affects you more intensely. It also means that until you adjust (and maybe even for a while after that), physical activity wears you out more. And it is DRY. Scientists recently thought they’d discovered an Anasazi mummy, but then realized it was just me on day three, after lots of sun, lots of drinking, and lots of activity.

The details of which I shall now relate.

Upon arriving, we checked in to our (very posh…probably too posh) hotel, quickly showered, and then headed right back out for the parties. I met the fellows at Del Charro. The groom, Jason, is vegetarian, so I wasn’t too worried about finding something to eat. While there weren’t a ton of vegan items on the menu, they did have a vegan garden burger served with local (very hot) green chilis, which was really good. The green chilis are a staple of Santa Fe, featured in a lot dishes, and are much hotter than the mild variety us Midwesterners usually get in cans (our Texan pals, Ryan and Val, used to the green chili heat, recommend Hatch ™ brand, if you can’t get the real deal in the Southwest). We also had margaritas, which seem to be the official drink of Santa Fe. We drank plenty of these and lots of local beer…seriously, a lot of local beer. I think we closed down 3 consecutive bars. But hey, that’s the bachelor/ette life, right?

Despite what the locals tried to convince us, the margaritas there weren’t much different than ones we’ve gotten at Mexican restaurants in the Midwest (I think they picture us all eating at Chili’s or ChiChi’s, not at authentic restaurants). Pictured above were our margaritas outdoors at The Ore House, which we drank while a road-worn, one-eyed man rocked us on the acoustic guitar, and while eating great happy hour chips, salsa and guacamole.

The second day out, we had a tofu scramble, potatoes, and homemade vegan sausage at The Chocolate Maven. We were elated to be able to find vegan breakfast after a hard night’s work party. While the scramble wasn’t particularly distinct, it did feature the local chilis, which gave it some zang. The homemade sausage was killer.

We spent the day wandering around Santa Fe, which is home to loads of artists–mostly of the crafty/painty-of-light/looks-inoffensive-over-the-couch variety (with the exception of the amazing and friendly Box Gallery and a bad-assed new media show in a warehouse down the street from Box). The general vibe was laid-back, but a bit tourist-y. If you’re into handmade rock/gem rings, New Mexico is your jam.

For dinner, we decided to go fancy-pants and tried out Anasazi. Usually, we’ve had pretty good luck with restaurants that have chefs. The folks at Anasazi were extremely reluctant to diverge from their menu, which was a bit of a problem, since they only had one vegan entree. After a few polite attempts, we sucked it up and ordered the Chefs Vegetable Canasta. We had no idea what a canasta was; it turns out it’s a sort of quasi-pastry filled, in this case, with mushy vegetables and (I think) some sort of beans. It wasn’t stellar. Since everything else had butter or meat, we got a standard salad and some french fries to round the meal out. Generally speaking, Santa Fe didn’t feel like a town for vegan adventure–it was perfectly pleasant to eat it, but only when sticking to the program.

We snuck a day hike in the Santa Fe National Forest in before the wedding.

The wedding that night was really nice–the ceremony was outdoors at a gallery and the reception was just inside. Jason and Allison had us covered on the vegan tip, so we were able to relax, drink, and (maybe it was the altitude…) dance like crazy. Their crew (who were all extremely awesome) like to party, so when the reception ended at midnight, we moved on to a local bar.

The next morning we were again in desperate need for breakfast, so we tried another local joint–Louie’s Corner Cafe.

We got the breakfast burritos, which were once again welcome, but not stellar. The green chilis made another appearance to spice things up. The burritos did come with a breakfast salad, which we thought was novel and tasty.

We briefly hit Whole Foods to grab some “monkey water” (coconut juice), so we could get hydrated (it’s like nature’s Gatorade–it’s got what plants crave–electrolytes!). Properly fueled, we were finally read to bid Santa Fe adieu and make our way up north to Taos to stay over night in an Earthship!

Southwest Road Trip: Quincy & Tulsa

We planned the first leg of our Southwest adventure around seeing friends along the way to Santa Fe, for a little catching up and couch/bed surfing.

Our first stop (after 10+ hours of driving) was Quincy, Illinois (a small town in the far west of central Illinois, almost in Missouri) to see our superlative pals Jen, Todd, and the their two boys, Trevor and Joel. Jen’s a great artist and great cook and had a delicious dinner more or less waiting for us upon arrival. She surprised us by making one of our own concoctions: Terriyaki-glazed Tofu. We also had fresh snow peas from the garden, rice, and a spicy black bean and corn salsa with fresh cilantro from the garden. Like us, they have 4×4 square foot gardens…just twice as many!

After a great night catching up, it was off for another 9 hours of driving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to visit our friend Sienna. We made a pitstop in Kansas City, Missouri to (a) break up the monotony of the drive, and (b) to check out some art. We have a number of artist friends who lived or studied there, so we had the inside scoop. We visited the Kemper Museum in KC first, then headed over to the Overland Park, Kansas to check out the Nerman Museum. The Kemper was nice–they had a giant Matthew Ritchie and a Jules Olitski exhibition–but the Nerman was a total surprise. It’s a serious gallery–better than most university galleries we’ve seen–and it’s part of a community college! Mind-blowing.

Since we got off the beaten path a little bit, we ended taking a rather meandering route through a lot of burnt out, dilapidated little derelict towns. I don’t fancy the drive through Oklahoma to be a beautiful one by any stretch, but it was quite a relief when we finally arrived in Tulsa. Sienna’s apartment is amazing and practically free by our standards–one of the perks of living in Tulsa. She and her fellow, Javad, took us downtown, which was larger and more city-like than I’d expected, and took us to eat at a Mexican joint called Elote. It was relatively veggie friendly (a few items were clearly marked as vegetarian), though not super easy for vegans. Most stuff was served with “queso fresco,” which, according to Sienna and Javad is pretty nasty. I got the black bean and sweet potato burrito and Amy got the same in taco form. Amy liked hers pretty well, but mine didn’t have a lot of beans, so it was pretty much just a mushy sweet potato in a flour tortilla. They did keep the chips and salsa coming, which was awesome. They also served the titular “elote”, or as Amy dubbed it, “the corn business,” which is essentially corn on the cob with cheese and cilantro.

It was already pretty late, and the small downtown tour was allegedly all we needed to see, so we headed back to Sienna’s place for the night.

We got an early start in the morning, for another 9+ hours of driving to Santa Fe, for the wedding. Stay tuned!

Southwest Road Trip: Packing Up

Our excellent pals Jason and Allison were getting married in Santa Fe this summer (congrats guys!) and, unusually for us, we didn’t have any large trips planned. We’d never been to the southwest, so we decided, what better excuse to plan an immense three week southwest road trip?

Here’s the itinerary:

  1. Quincy, Illinois (to visit our friends Jen and Todd)
  2. Kansas City, Missouri (to see art) and Tulsa, Oklahoma (to visit our friend Sienna)
  3. Santa Fe, New Mexico (for the wedding!)
  4. Taos, New Mexico (to stay in an Earthship)
  5. The Grand Canyon
  6. Bryce Canyon, Salt Lake City, Spiral Jetty, and Arches National Park–all in Utah
  7. Denver, Colorado
  8. Mount Rushmore & The Badlands, South Dakota
  9. Sioux Falls, South Dakota (as a luncheon pit stop) and Iowa City, Iowa  (to visit our friends Jeremy and Beth)
  10. Larsen, Wisconsin (to visit Amy’s folks)
  11. Shirland, Illinois (to pseudo-camp with a whole mess of friends)
  12. Home!

The plan was to couch surf with friends and camp mostly, splurging on a nice hotel in Santa Fe for the few days surrounding the wedding, so we wanted to be well-prepared for doing a lot of eating (and a bit of living) out of our minivan, Vanna Gold. We anticipated being able to eat reasonably well in the larger cities, like Santa Fe, SLC, and Denver, and figured we’d be able to manage in some way while staying with friends. Camping and in smaller cities–and especially during the very long days on the road–we’d need to have food on hand. This meant breakfast and lunch for almost every day, and dinner for about a third.

Here’s what we packed, food-wise:

  • 2 batches of homemade granola bars (recipe forthcoming!)
  • 1 bag of apples
  • 1 bunch of bananas
  • 1 jar of peanut butter
  • 1 jar of jam
  • 2 loaves of bread (way too much, it turns out)
  • 1 carton of almond milk
  • 1 small carton of soy creamer
  • 1 bag of baby carrots
  • 1 bag of snow peas
  • 1 bag of broccoli florets (we bought 6 stalks of broccoli, cut into florets, and juiced the stalks)
  • 1 large batch of hummus
  • 1 small batch of baba ganoush (we cheated and bought both of these)
  • 2 cases of La Croix (we’re addicted to fizzy water–we make at home with our Soda Stream ™, but had to suck it up and go with cans on the road)
  • 3 gallons of water
  • 2 packs of sesame rice crackers
  • 1 box of woven wheats
  • 1 large jug of the green Naked ™ juice
  • 1 box of Mojo bars (mainly for hiking)
  • 2 jars of cashews (1 garlic herb, 1 spicy thai)
  • 1 jar of dried apricots (this was a bad idea–the sulfur used to dry/preserve them makes me very gassy…and we were closed up in the van for long periods of time…)

These provided us with breakfast and lunch pretty much throughout the entire trip. We went through the apples and bananas and juice pretty fast. We ate far fewer sandwiches than we thought we would (they’re not that easy to make while driving). We ate a lot of the homemade granola bars the first week and a half, but started to get a little burnt out on them later (and they get crumbled after being shuffled around so much). We ate a ton of veggies (carrots, broccoli, and snow peas) with hummus and baba ganoush. This is a great way of eating fresh and healthy on the road–you get your veggies and your protein. For a change of pace, we’d add in some crackers occasionally. The cashews and apricots were great for quick snacks.

We also packed some camping meals (we brought along a camp stove, a pot and a pan, some camp-friendly dishes, and a french press for coffee):

  • quick-cooking brown rice
  • fusili noodles
  • 2 cans of soup
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce
  • 1 can of chana chole
  • 1 bag of decaf coffee
  • veggie bouillon
  • rolled oats (and a maple syrup, for oatmeal)
  • earth balance (for toast)

We camped slightly less than we anticipated, so these supplies proved to be more than enough. Since they’re non-perishable, nothing has gone to waste.

We’re currently most of the way through the trip (relaxing with Amy’s folks in Wisconsin) and have felt really healthy and happy (if a bit over-prepared) with our food choices.

Stay tuned for some beautiful trip photos and reviews of some amazing veg restaurants!

Seitan Gave Me a Taco

About a month ago, we had some friends over to cook down, Mexican style. Our friends Ryan and Val brought Upton’s Naturals Chorizo-style Seitan. These guys (Upton’s) are friends of friends from back in our Chicago days and totally do it right–it’s basically just a bigger, more professional version of the way you make seitan in your own kitchen, but with more mustaches.

I know what you’re thinking–after that Daiya post, we’ve totally sold out and aren’t preparing any of our own food any more. Au contraire, mes freres! Upton’s was so delicious, yet so simple, that it give me an idea: why not make our own ground seitan? On a variety of occasions, we’ve chopped up seitan fairly finely to use in tacos, but never quite made that leap into grinding it properly in a food processor. This genius notion probably isn’t new to you. But after making a batch last night, we were totally blown away. Our homemade batch was the best we’ve had!

And it’s really easy. We started with the PPK’s classic seitan recipe (this is our goto “beef” style seitan), unmodified. I think I over-kneaded the dough a bit, which made the final seitan just a tad rubbery. This worked out perfectly for our ground seitan though. If you ever find yourself with rubbery seitan, this is a great way to use it.

Later, back at the lab…Cut one of the large seitan pieces into processable chunks, toss them in the food processor, and grind them coarsely (you’re going to grind more later, so go easy). Then make a batch of our taco seasoning (cut the salt down to 1/4 tsp–seitan is much saltier than tempeh!). Add about half of the seasoning to the seitan, along with 1/4 cup of soy sauce and 1/2 cup of the seitan stock, and grind briefly, until well mixed. Add the rest of the seasoning and mix until you’ve got the desired size. If  your seitan was a bit rubbery, go a little finer. Otherwise, this is totally a matter of personal preference.

At this point, it’s ready to be cooked or stored. If you made a big batch (if you used your entire batch of seitan, say), you could probably even freeze this to no ill effect. We’ve had seitan brats in the freezer for a year that are still awesome.

You could use the same process to make sausage-style seitan or chorizo-style seitan.

No mustache required. All Irreverent Vegan seitan is made irony-free.

East African Kunde

I first had this dish in the quaint little fishing town of Pouch Cove, Newfoundland, of all places. I was at an artist residency in 2005, and near the end of my three weeks there, a local artist had the six or so artists at the residency over for dinner. Finding vegan fare in Newfoundland had been a challenge until that point, so imagine my joy upon visiting this artist’s lovely home to find out that she had made this wonderful naturally vegan dish with me in mind, having spent some time in Africa, and being familiar with plant-based foods from that region.

I compared this to other versions of traditional kunde online and it looks like my host took some liberties with the customary recipe (this is pretty much the recipe she wrote down for me, with a few tweaks from us).  Since kunde is simply Swahili for black-eyed peas, the recipe can probably be pretty much anything that uses vegetarian ingredients readily found in Kenya.  It always has black-eyed peas, but some recipes highlight the role of the tomatoes and most emphasize the addition of peanut butter or peanut oil, whereas ours has none and contains coconut milk instead. None seem to have corn.  Our dish looks more like a cross between kunde and a dish called M’Baazi, which does have coconut milk, but is often served cold.  It also resembles recipes from the Caribbean.

Regardless of the authenticity of the recipe, let me assure you that this version is delicious.  It left me swooning upon first (and second and third) helping back in 2005.  Mark and I used to make it a lot when we lived in Chicago and finally decided to revisit it again tonight since we had all of the ingredients on hand.

If anyone knows anything more about kunde, or has recommendations for other African dishes, please let us know; we’d love to expand our African cooking repertoire.

East African Kunde (by way of a hospitable Newfoundlander)

  • 1.5 cups corn
  • 1 cup cooked black-eyed peas
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 -2 tbsp brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like this)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • cooking oil
  • salt, to taste

If serving over brown rice, begin that first so it can be cooking while you prepare the kunde. In a large frying pan, sautee the onion over medium heat. When the onions become soft, add all of the spices. Next, add in the tomato, corn, and black-eyed peas. Finally, pour in the coconut milk. Next, mash the beans up a bit with a spoon or potato masher if desired.

Allow to simmer for 30 – 45  minutes, until liquid has reduced.

Serve over brown rice, couscous, or quinoa.

Bliss = achieved.

Note: We typically double this recipe so as to have leftovers.  This recipe serves about 4-6 depending on portion size.

Another note: My host mentioned referring to the recipe for kunde in The Spices of Life by Troth Wells, which looks fantastic!  We’ll have to pick up a copy for sure.