Blog - vegan
Most professional cooks will probably tell you it is extremely important to create balance in a final dish…and that balance is achieved by artfully combining flavors, texture and appearance. Unfortunately, most professional cooks have also learned the standard techniques in a classical kitchen which rely heavily on the use of fats, salt and sugars. And if you don’t believe this statement, then simply tune into any cooking show on television and watch how the professionals cook. I guarantee you will see a recipe which is most definitely unhealthy!
But is all that fat really necessary to produce a tasty and balanced dish?
As a mostly plant-based cook, I have discovered how to produce really tasty food without the use of animal products and with a heavy emphasis on supporting good health. Removing fats from a dish will dramatically affect its flavor, so I had to consider how I would maximize the flavor of ingredients I use in my recipes. I began looking at alternatives. I started to emphasize toasting and roasting nuts, seeds and spices before I would use them in a recipe. I increased the sweet, acid and spice elements in my dishes to create powerful flavors which balanced well in the mouth. I concentrated flavors through reduction to bring even more flavor into my no oil dishes. And I never missed the fat!
I really enjoy having granola bars on hand because they are, in many ways, the perfect snack food. They are packed full of nutrients and an important source of carbohydrates to boost your energy reserves. Unfortunately, many store-bought granola bars are filled with fats and other mysterious ingredients to promote long shelf lives, and I’m just not willing to ingest these ingredients.
So, I make my own – and they are surprisingly simple to make!
I came across this original recipe from my friend Dawn, co-founder and content guru at Rouxbe Online Cooking School. The recipe itself is quite simple to prepare and it uses only natural and healthy ingredients. You can also make the entire recipe gluten-free if that is important to you by making sure you use certified gluten-free oats.
The base of these granola bars are dates, and here it is important to get off to a good start. Always make sure your dates do not have any pits in them before beginning. Be sure to soak the dates in warm water until they soften – usually no more than an hour, unless of course, your dates are already quite soft. Process the dates quite well in a food processor until they begin to ball up. I don’t like using a high speed blender for this task because I think the dates become too soft and mushy. They should have a bit of texture, but also completely processed.
Once the dates are complete, it is really only a matter of combining the remaining ingredients…and here there is a great deal of flexibility. For instance, try using cashew butter instead of almond butter for a lighter version. Add some raisins to the mix as well. For a crunchier version, try adding a handful of GM-free soy flakes. Dried ginger gives the bars a bit of punch…and cinnamon is an excellent addition, especially if you are adding some chopped dried apples.
Paula Wolfert’s wonderful book, Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco, describes Byesar as the North African cousin to the Middle Eastern hummus made of chickpeas. This is high praise indeed as hummus is one of the world’s greatest food contributions. So I was…well, slightly skeptical. But after tasting one spoonful of the freshly made warm fava bean puree, I was more than convinced. This recipe is one of the most exciting finds I have found this year!
I grew up eating many special foods from Morocco, but I never had the opportunity to taste this beloved dish. It is made with split fava beans (broad beans for those of you who are more familiar with this name), fruity olive oil, a hint of garlic, cumin and lemon. That’s it – just some humble ingredients put together in your food processor.
The cooler weather of fall always brings me to soups…and I really enjoy all types: creamy purées, thick lentil soups, chunky vegetable soups, clear consommés and so on. But in my opinion, the king of all cold weather soups has to be the famous Tuscan ribolita. It is a thick, stick-to-your-ribs soup filled with healthy vegetables, beans and potatoes. It is excellent when first prepared, but like the name suggests (ribolita means to re-boil), the soup improves in flavor when reheated, which makes this soup perfect for keeping around a couple of days
Most ribolita soups you will encounter are somewhat different than the original…either lacking in vegetable variety or packed full of tomato puree and cheese. My version below is very similar to the actual DOC designated recipe, which was officially declared on the 24th of May, 2011 at the Florence Academy of Italian Cuisine. The designation followed a long research period with some of the finest restaurants in Florence participating. The concluding recipe implied most restaurants in Tuscany do not serve the real version, but mere impostors.
It doesn’t take very much time these days to search for and find soup recipes made in a pressure cooker. In fact, you can even search within this blog from just a few months ago and locate my marvelous Caramelized Carrot and Ginger Soup, adapted from “The Modernist Cuisine.”
So why is there a sudden spike in popularity amongst soup enthusiasts in using pressure cookers? Well, I think the answer is simple; pressure cookers cook soups quickly and create unmatched flavors. That’s the bottom line…and that’s all that should matter.
My two newest soups this fall are based on a couple of regulars: Curried Pumpkin and Orange and Creamy Pumpkin and Chestnut.
Strudel desserts are perfect during cool fall evenings because they really highlight the fruit inside. I like to think of a strudel as a rolled up pie – much the same as a calzone is basically a rolled up pizza. The classic recipe, of course, is apple strudel which is very difficult to beat in terms of overwhelming satisfaction. But I like to tinker a bit, so I added some pears or green figs to the recipe…you know, just to be a bit different. Sometimes I even feel a bit more bold and replace the traditional roasted hazelnuts with walnuts.
However I decide to make the filling, I always make sure to make the dough in the same manner which is more in the Austrian style.
Austrian-style strudels are typically a bit smaller in diameter than their German or Hungarian counterparts…and the dough is much crispier – somewhat reminiscent to phyllo dough. German-style strudels are typically made from a dough similar to puff pastry, while Austrian strudels are made with essentially a pasta dough which has vinegar added to it. The addition of vinegar to the dough is very important…if not a bit odd sounding at first. Vinegar will help the formation of a very elastic gluten network, which helps greatly when stretching out this dough to a paper thin consistency. I always use a mild flavored white wine vinegar in my strudel dough.
Most traditional recipes include copious amounts of butter – both inside the filling and as part of the dough. I personally think the butter covers up the wonderful fruit and spice flavors, so I replace it with oil…plus, I don’t eat any dairy products.
I really like the wholesome, slightly nutty flavor of brown rice…when cooked properly that is!
I’ve always cooked brown rice according to the basic pilaf method. I’ve experimented with cooking the rice on the stove over moderate heat until the rice absorbed all of the water. I’ve tried cooking the rice in the oven, covered with foil. I’ve even tried cooking the rice in a rice cooker. All of these methods mostly ended in disappointment because the rice became clumpy, was under cooked or scorched a bit on the bottom of the pan. But, recently I’ve experimented with my pressure cooker and every time I make the rice it turns out perfectly cooked, steamed to perfection with every grain absorbing just the amount of moisture needed.
I’ve also paid closer attention to purchasing high quality brown rice and storing the rice correctly to avoid any hint of rancidity.
Rhubarb crumble is one of the very first desserts of spring using fresh ingredients. It is so delicious that I think everyone should eat this dessert at the beginning of April. Unfortunately for many, making a crumble is off limits. Gluten is often included in recipes to create the tasty browned flakes. Additionally, butter and eggs are also frequently used to bind everything together and help the browning and crisping of the crumble. But is it really necessary to include gluten and use eggs or dairy products in this recipe?
I set out to create a crumble which has no gluten and is otherwise completely free of eggs and dairy products. The end result is quite satisfying…and I don’t think I will ever attempt to make another crumble with dairy or gluten.
As a variation, add sliced strawberries to this recipe…preferably waiting until the local strawberries appear. I also think I will try apricots, blackberries and apples as the season changes.
I really enjoy the flavors of spring…especially when the young greens emerge from the soil. My favorites are the wild garlic greens of Switzerland called bärlauch, young dandelion greens, wild sorrel or young blood sorrel. All of these greens have tremendous nutritional value, especially in the amount of antioxidants, which are very good to ward off any winter crud lingering in your blood stream.
I always use this type of mixture to create a nice spring salad, but lately I have decided to quickly sauté the greens in a bit of water and coat with oil after they are wilted. This method really enhances their flavor characteristics while minimizing the amount of fat you are consuming.
As for the beans… Well actually you can use any type of starch. I have used roasted potatoes as well as creamy polenta to mix with the wilted greens. I think beans are very nice if you are looking for something completely different. I prefer using fresh beans when they are available. Otherwise, just cook your beans in a pressure cooker as follows.
To cook your beans very easily, begin by soaking the dried beans in cold water with a dash of baking soda for about one hour. The beans will get a bit wrinkly after this treatment, but don’t worry, they will still cook just fine. Place your beans in a pressure cooker and cover with about 4-cm of water. Add a bay leaf to the water, then close the pressure cooker very well. Place the pressure cooker on a burner with high heat. When the pressure hits 2 bars, reduce your temperature to low and maintain pressure for 65 minutes (I find this time works best for most beans). Release the pressure by running cold water over the top of the pressure cooker. Check the consistency of the beans. If you are happy, season them well with salt and remove them from the pressure cooker to cool. If they are underdone, return the pressure cooker to the stove, cover well and bring the pressure back up to 2 bars like before. Maintain this pressure for 10 minutes and then release the pressure again. The beans should now be just about right!
Traditional soda bread recipes should only contain flour, baking soda, salt and sour milk – that’s it! I have seen many recipes that a fat or raisins in the ingredients, but this is actually considered an entirely different recipe called ‘spotted dog’.
Soda bread will often turn out rather heavy, with a gummy texture when using the simple ingredients. I find the interior of the bread becomes more flaky and the crust a bit harder when adding about 20 gr. of olive oil. The added fat will shorten the gluten a bit, which can also be achieved using butter. But, olive oil also hardens the crust during the baking process and butter just creates the flakiness inside.
You can also make this recipe lactose-free by replacing the buttermilk with a mixture of: 180 gr. soy yogurt, 220 gr. rice milk, 5 gr. cream of tartar and 1 Tbl. lemon juice oil).
This recipe makes one large round loaf.