virtual vegan potluck: pasta with beet pesto and tofu ricotta

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Welcome to the fourth installment of the Virtual Vegan Potluck! I’m so excited to be a part of this fun event! I hope you have enjoyed all the amazing recipes you’ve seen so far. This is my first time participating and I am honored to take my place in the lineup. This fall’s potluck has a new twist — a featured ingredient — the glorious beet! I wanted to come up with something that was a little out of the ordinary. We’ve all seen or heard of beet salads, pickled beets, brownies with beets, beet ice cream, beet soup, and the like. I wanted something a little bit different.

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I used to despise beets. My mom would serve canned beets at dinner when I was growing up and I couldn’t stand them. I quickly learned that if I didn’t put a few on my plate, my mother would give me a huge spoonful and I would have to eat them all. It was easier to choke down a few than the giant spoonful! Once I left home for college, beets never came across my plate again until a few summers ago. My CSA boxes started arriving with bunches and bunches of beets. The first few weeks, I either gave them away to a friend, or ashamedly threw them away. It was a waste. I finally decided that I had to force myself to like them.

It turns out that fresh beets are much more flavorful than the horrible canned things. Roasted and drizzled with balsamic and maple syrup, served over greens with walnuts, dried cranberries, and avocado, I finally began to appreciate them. I found initially that I preferred golden or chiogga beets better than the standard red ones because the flavor isn’t as “beet-y” but I can now definitely eat them and actually enjoy my meal without feeling tortured!

So what to make for the potluck? I initially planned to make a recipe I stumbled across in a meal plan I subscribe to on my iPad. It was for beetroot, lentil, and brown rice patties, topped with sliced tomato, sautéed mushrooms, and smashed avocado. It looked interesting, but each time I set about to make it, I never really felt inspired and ended up making other things instead. Then all of a sudden, a few weekends ago while I was blog surfing, I happened upon a picture of a bowl of vibrant pink pasta. I knew instantly that this was the start of what I would make for the potluck.

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I turned to my trusty recipe file (i.e. Google) and finally settled upon this recipe for beet pesto, but I needed to find a substitute for the goat cheese. One of the many beet recipes I looked at mentioned topping the pasta with ricotta cheese so I decided to see if I could find a simple recipe for making tofu ricotta. I decided upon this recipe because I find the combination of miso and tahini so intriguing — it’s a flavorful collision of two vastly different world cuisines, two worlds that are both so integral in my food story. (This ricotta recipe, by the way, was so delicious on its own that I could have kept eating it by the spoonful. I’m anxious to see what other dishes I can come up with incorporating this ricotta).

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The end result? For starters, this was not a difficult dish to make at all. The ricotta takes about five minutes to measure, chop, and mash everything up. The beets need to roast for an hour, but after that, it’s the time needed to cook the pasta, and a few minutes of food processor magic. (And making sure you don’t turn your clothes and kitchen pink in the process). For something relatively simple to make, this was crazy delicious. I was actually surprised how little beet taste there was in it — I was expecting to be smacked in the face with beet flavor, but the garlic and walnuts must have mellowed it out. It is stunning to look at — I did very little to edit these photos. That really truly is the color of the dish. It is guaranteed to make your dinner guests ooh and ahh when you place this in front of them at the table! It might even make your children eat beets without realizing it — my sister’s kids love pasta with basil pesto, so if they’re already used to green garlicky pasta, I imagine they might be inclined to try bright pink pasta, too.

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pasta with beet pesto and tofu ricotta

ingredients

for the pesto

  • 3 to 4 medium-sized red beets, scrubbed clean
  • 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup tofu ricotta (see below)

for the tofu ricotta (makes approx. 2 cups)

  • 1 block extra firm tofu (14 oz), drained and pressed
  • 1 1/2 tbsp tahini
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 tsp miso paste
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 pound pasta of choice

directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Drizzle beets lightly with olive oil. Wrap the beets (individually) and garlic cloves (together) tightly with aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast 1 hour, or until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, make the tofu ricotta. In a medium bowl, crumble the tofu with your hands. Add the remaining ricotta ingredients to the bowl and mash with a spoon. Set aside.
  3. Cook the pasta according to directions. Reserve a cup of pasta water before draining pasta. Drain pasta and drizzle lightly with olive oil to keep from sticking and set aside.
  4. After removing beets and garlic from oven, remove foil and let cool slightly. Once cool enough to touch, use a spoon to peel skin off beets and coarsely chop. Squeeze roasted garlic out of the peel.
  5. In a food processor, combine roasted beets, roasted garlic, two tablespoons olive oil, and toasted walnuts. Pulse until smooth and creamy, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Add 1/2 cup tofu ricotta and pulse until combined. Season with salt to taste.
  6. Toss pasta and beet mixture until well combined. Top with more tofu ricotta, if desired.

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I hope you have enjoyed my dish in the Virtual Vegan Potluck. Please use the image below to visit the next dish in the lineup!

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miso udon with tofu, spinach, and shiitake

20130921-223659.jpgIt rained most of the day yesterday. A little on the chilly side, but not cold enough to light the fireplace yet. I’m looking forward to those days — not the colder temperatures so much, but the coziness of sitting in front of my fire curled up in a blanket with a glass of wine. And my cat plastered to my side, no doubt.

It was still a miserable enough afternoon that some comfort food was in order. I had a lot of spinach to use up and a fresh batch of home-sprouted mung bean sprouts so I thought I would make a vegetarian version of miso chanko-nabe. Chanko-nabe is a one-pot meal that the sumo wrestlers in Japan eat. It’s a hearty meal that consists of broth, vegetables and meat or seafood. There are really no rules to making chanko-nabe. You can put in whatever you want, make the broth however you like.

When we lived in Japan, we would often eat this in the winter months. My mom would cook it on the stove in the kitchen and then transfer it to a pot over a gas burner placed in the middle of the dining room table. Then we could serve ourselves and refill our bowls as needed throughout the meal. There are a lot of Japanese meals that are served in this way, a method of keeping warm in the winter months since most houses are without central heating. Many families sit under a kotatsu together in the evenings for food, television, games, and conversation. A kotatsu is a table covered with a futon, or heavy blanket, with a heat source underneath or built into the table itself. I think this table played a big factor in the creation of much of Japan’s cold-weather cuisine.

For my version of chanko-nabe, I used individually packaged, pre-cooked udon noodles — the kind that cook in 3 minutes. I find mine in the Asian section of my grocery store. If you can only find the dried noodles, you will need to cook them separately before putting them in the pot. Also, if you have leftovers, I recommend storing the noodles separately from the broth, otherwise they will absorb all of the liquid and become very mushy.

I sprinkled some shichimi togarashi over my bowl when serving. Shichimi is a Japanese seasoning blend that literally means “seven flavor chili pepper”. The brand I use contains orange peel, black and white toasted sesame seeds, cayenne, ginger, Szechuan pepper and nori (seaweed). It can be found in most Asian food stores. If you can’t find it, you could probably make your own mix, or just sprinkle a bit of cayenne on top.

Update: I’ve shared this post on Pure Ella’s Comfort Food Potluck Party http://pureella.com/potluck-party-comfort-food-recipes/. Won’t you join in the fun, too?

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miso udon with tofu, spinach, and shiitake

ingredients

  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 packages instant udon noodles, seasoning packets discarded
  • 1 package firm tofu cut into 1/2-inch squares
  • 2 leeks, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 8-10 shiitake, sliced
  • handful of snow peas, trimmed
  • 3 green onions, the whites sliced into 1 1/-2-inch pieces, the green tops sliced thinly
  • 1 bunch spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 2-4 tbsp miso paste
  • dash of shichimi togarashi
  1. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and add the ginger and garlic. Add the leeks, snow peas, tofu and shiitake and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the green onions, spinach and bean sprouts.
  3. Place the miso in a medium bowl and add a ladleful of hot broth. Whisk until the miso is completely dissolved, then stir the mixture back into the soup. I like a strong miso flavor, so I used 4 tablespoons. Start with 2 and taste the broth after you pour the miso back into the pot, and adjust as desired.
  4. Cook for a few minutes and sprinkle with shichimi togarashi, if desired. Serve piping hot.

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creamy polenta with spinach and mushrooms

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Tonight, I planned to make a mushroom, spinach, and lentil phyllo-wrapped thing for dinner. (Yes, “thing” is the technical name). When I finally got around to cooking, I decided that it would take too long since I’d need to cook the lentils before I could assemble and bake the whole thing. I started googling mushroom, spinach, and phyllo recipes but couldn’t find anything that would be quick and easy to make. I stumbled upon this recipe and decided I would vegan-ize it. Instead of scallops, I used tofu as my protein, but you could use sausage, chicken, beans, etc.

It was creamy, savory, and very filling. I’ve never really done much with polenta before this, but I will definitely be making variations of this dish again. Instead of spinach, you could stir in just about any vegetable you want and I think the end result would be great.

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creamy polenta with spinach and mushrooms

ingredients

  • 3/4 cup polenta
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 bunch spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • firm tofu, cubed (optional)

directions

  1. Put polenta and vegetable stock in a medium-sized sauce pan and stir well to combine. Turn stove to high and cook until the broth starts to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir often to make sure the polenta doesn’t clump. Cook until polenta is creamy and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add spinach and stir to thoroughly combine. Stir in nutritional yeast. Set aside.
  2. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add about 2 tbsp of olive oil to the pan. Add onions to the pan and sauté until they begin to turn translucent. Add the mushrooms to the pan and sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. If using tofu, add to the pan at this time (For chicken, sausage, etc., either cook separately and stir in at the end, or add to the pan after the onions and brown all sides before adding mushrooms). Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add wine to pan. Continue to cook until wine has reduced by half. Add almond milk to the pan and stir to incorporate. Cook for about 2 more minutes, then remove from heat. Adjust seasoning as needed.
  3. Distribute the polenta between 4 plates and top with mushroom mixture. Serve immediately.

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takikomi gohan – brown rice with tofu, zucchini, eggplant, shiitake

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This was a spur of the moment meal that I started at 9:00pm Sunday night. I don’t recommend doing that since I added too much liquid to my rice cooker and after two-and-a-half hours, it still hadn’t beeped. I finally checked on it close to midnight and the brown rice was finally done. Learning from my mistakes, what I believe should be a faster recipe is below.

brown rice with tofu, zucchini, eggplant, and shiitake

ingredients

  • go of brown rice, rinsed
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 eggplant, diced
  • 1/2 block of tofu, cut into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch cubes
  • 8-10 shiitake, sliced thinly
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp mirin (sweet cooking rice wine)
  • water

directions

  1. Put rice in rice cooker and enough water for 2 go according to your rice cooker’s specifications. Add all other ingredients.
  2. If your rice cooker has a brown rice setting, switch it to that, and press start.
  3. When your rice cooker beeps, it’s done! (You may want to check on it after an hour and see how it’s doing, and then every half hour after that. The vegetables will add extra liquid as they cook down, so make sure you don’t make the mistake I did of putting enough water to compensate for all the ingredients.)

korean-inspired lettuce wraps

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Clockwise from the top: lettuce, kimchee (fermented cabbage), sukju namul (bean sprout salad), seasoned soy bean paste, maple-glazed tofu, marinated shiitake

My grocery store carries kimchee in the produce section alongside tofu and spring roll wrappers. If you can’t find kimchee, you could maybe add some hot peppers or something else spicy with a bit of crunch. I got the recipe for the sukju namul here at Maangchi, a great Korean food blog. I used Japanese cucumbers from my garden and bean sprouts that I grew in my kitchen! The seasoned soy bean paste is a Korean brand I found in the Asian section of my grocery store. The recipe for Maple-Glazed Tofu can be found at Fried Dandelions, a vegan food blog with a lot of great recipes. The recipe for the marinated mushrooms is below. This is really a simple dinner to make — each element only takes 5 to 10 minutes to make and can all be made in advance.  I made extra of everything so I could take it to work for lunch tomorrow and Wednesday.

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marinated shiitake mushrooms

ingredients

  • 7 to 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking)
  • 1 tbsp sugar

directions

Clean the shiitake and cut them into 1/4-inch strips. Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until most of the liquid is gone. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. (If using dried shiitake, rehydrate them in 2 cups of hot water (enough water to cover) for at least an hour. Reserve the soaking liquid and use 2/3 cup of it in place of the water).

grown up bento, part 1

School started last week which means it’s back to either packing lunches or running across the street to Wendy’s or McDonald’s. I’m trying to stick with the former so I bought myself some cute bento boxes in the hopes that this will help me be creative and excited about packing a lunch, even when my schedule begins to get really crazy. Since I’m following the Vegan Before 6 plan, each lunch needs to be vegan also. So far, I’ve made it a whole week, so that’s progress!

Here is what I packed this week:

Day One 

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1 – Corn salad – fresh corn, cooked edamame (soybeans), cucumber, peach, and tomato. Chop everything up and dress with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. (Could also add fresh cilantro or basil, fresh mozzarella or feta if non-vegan, experiment with the spices. Get creative!)

2 – Leftover fried tofu from Mad Mex (that’s a bit of vegan sour cream you see in the picture), and honey dew melon

Day Two

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1 – Maple Glazed Tofu with homemade guacamole and refrigerator pickles. There’s a multigrain tortilla hiding under the wax paper below the tofu. I put the guac, tofu and pickles in the tortilla at lunch time. (For guacamole – combine one avocado, juice of one lime, and 1-2 garlic cloves in a food processor or blender. Can also add red onion, cilantro, tomato, tomatillo, etc. For refrigerator pickles — recipe is here on my blog) 

2 – leftover corn and edamame salad from yesterday, and mango and cantaloupe chunks.

Day Three

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1 – leftover guacamole from day two. Under the guac is a multigrain tortilla. The greens are leftover from dinner at a Japanese restaurant the previous night. They’re dressed with sesame oil.

2 – leftover maple-glazed tofu from day two and chunks of cantaloupe. I made a wrap again with the tortilla, greens, guac, and tofu.

Day Four

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1 – cantaloupe chunks and cucumber sticks (I grow Japanese cucumbers in my garden — they’re long and slender, have no seeds, the skin is thin and tasty, and they are burpless. Much crisper and tastier than your average cucumber. Very similar to Persian cucumbers, only about twice as long.)

2 – leftovers from the Japanese restaurant two days earlier – fried rice and zucchini, and seaweed salad (I ordered the seaweed salad appetizer specifically so I could have leftovers for lunch. I knew that it would be too much food with my entrée but I was trying to be proactive).

My bento boxes are made by Bentgo. Each container has a lid and they stack on top of each other. There’s a plastic fork, knife, and spoon that fits in between the two containers and there’s an elastic strap to hold everything together. I got a great deal on Groupon for them, and I love the colors!

polenta with tomatillo and avocado salsa, two ways

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Yesterday I bought some tomatillos at the farmer’s market. I’ve never cooked with them before, but I thought it would be fun to experiment with a new ingredient. I have had tomatillo sauces and salsas on occasion but I haven’t worked with them first hand. I started thinking about the different ingredients I had in my fridge and headed to my trusty recipe book: Google. I finally settled upon what turned out to be a Weight Watchers recipe: Mexican Poached Eggs Over Polenta with Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa.

Aside from desserts, I don’t think I could find many dishes that couldn’t be improved by putting a fried or poached egg on top. In fact, if I had to come up with a second choice for my blog title, it would probably be “Put An Egg On It.” This dish was great. I left out the tomatoes because I thought the tomatillos added enough tomato-like consistency and I didn’t have jalapeños on hand. I’ll have to pick some up this weekend at the farmer’s market. I liked the sweet and sour tartness of the tomatillos, the creaminess of the avocado and polenta, the kick from the chili powder and red onion, and the runny yolk of the poached egg melded everything together really well. It was filling and satisfying and one I would happily pay money for at my favorite restaurants.

Tonight I decided to change the recipe a little bit since I had meat at lunch this afternoon. As part of the Vegan Before 6 diet, I need to eat vegan for two meals a day so I decided to substitute tofu for the poached egg. I had about a half-sized portion of the salsa left over from last night, so I cut up a peach and threw that in with the avocado and tomatillos. I also thought I’d kick it up a notch and added cayenne pepper and smoked paprika to the dusting on the polenta and tofu. For the sake of presentation, I cut the tofu into a circle the same size as my polenta rounds and stacked it polenta-tofu-polenta, but you can do it however you want.

Tofu will never replace eggs permanently for me, but this dish was still quite good. The addition of the peaches counteracted the extra kick from the cayenne and I think will make a regular appearance in this salsa whenever I make it. I left my tofu to drain while I was out for a couple of hours, thinking it would save me time when I go home, but I think I ended up drying it out a bit too much. I might also try it with firm instead of extra-firm tofu next time to see if it will stay creamier like the polenta. I still really enjoyed it despite the tofu being a bit dry.

The recipe is below with the notes for making it vegan.

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mexican poached egg over polenta with tomatillo-avocado salsa

ingredients

  • 1 tsp white vinegar (for poaching the egg)
  • 1 egg (or a 1/2-inch thick slice of firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into a circle the same size as the polenta)
  • a pinch of chili powder
  • a pinch of garlic powder
  • a pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • a pinch of smoked paprika (optional)
  • 1/2- to 1-inch thick slice of polenta from a prepared polenta log
  • 3-4 chopped tomatillos, boiled until soft (about 2-3 minutes)
  • 1/4 of a red onion, diced
  • 1 medium avocado, diced
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 medium peach, chopped (optional)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

directions

To poach the egg, fill a small saucepan half way up with water and place over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil and add the vinegar. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Crack the egg into a small dish or cup and gently slide the egg into the simmering water. Cook until the egg white has set, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel and cover to keep warm.

(If using tofu instead of an egg: Fold up a paper towel in a square large enough for your tofu to sit on. Place the paper towel on a small plate. Set the tofu on top of the paper towel, and take another paper towel and place it on top of the tofu. Set another plate on top of this and put a heavy weight on top of the plate — I used a can of pumpkin purée. Let your tofu drain for 10-15 minutes. Then follow the directions for the polenta below with regards to spicing it and frying it. You can use more than one tofu round if you want to make your stacks taller.)

Take your slice of polenta and sprinkle one side with the chili powder and garlic powder. If desired, you can add cayenne, paprika, or any other spice of your choosing. Place a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add some olive oil. Cook polenta (and tofu) for 2-3 minutes on the non-spiced side. Flip over and dust the other side with spices and cook for another 2-3 minutes. The time will vary based on the thickness of your polenta (and tofu).

To make the salsa, combine the avocado, tomatillo, red onion, peach (optional) and cilantro in a bowl. Lightly coat with olive oil and lime juice, mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble, place your polenta round on a plate. Top with the poached egg and about 1 cup of the salsa. (I also splashed a bit of tabasco over the egg on a whim). Save any extra salsa as an accompaniment to your lunch or dinner the next day. (For the vegan option, stack your polenta and tofu rounds — I used two rounds of polenta and one round of tofu, but you could make it taller — start with polenta on the bottom and alternate with the tofu. Top with salsa and enjoy!)

Serves 1

japanese-inspired brown rice with mushrooms and tofu

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I’ll spare you the long story of how I ended up with the inspiration for tonight’s dinner. I’ll just say that it started with Starbuck’s new orange spiced iced coffee and ended with me stumbling across a great Japanese food blog and this recipe for mushroom rice. I plan to visit this blog often for future meal ideas!

I love mushrooms. In fact, they may be my favorite vegetable, if you can call them that. I tend to gravitate towards items on a menu that have mushrooms in them. When I found the recipe for mushroom rice and knew I still had some fresh shiitake in my fridge, there was no question what I would be making tonight. I varied from the original recipe because my eating plan requires using brown rice instead of white. I also didn’t have any sake on hand, so I added extra mirin. (With all the alcohol that I have in my house, I was quite surprised not to find any sake. This will be remedied soon!)  Continue reading

wheat berry breakfast, variation

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This morning I decided to try a variation of the vegan breakfast I made yesterday. Everything is pretty much the same except I mashed up about one cup of tofu instead of the banana, and used peaches instead of nectarines. Again, mixing in about 1/2 cup cooked wheat berries and a drizzle of agave nectar.  Continue reading