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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peanut butter chocolate chip fudge brownies

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How’s this for a weekend treat? Brownies without flour, oil, eggs, dairy, or added sugar. Yup, you heard me right. And they’re ooey gooey, full of chocolate-y goodness, creamy peanut butter, and a little bit of a kick since I added a dash of cayenne. I was skeptical when I first saw the recipe on Ambitious Kitchen. How could peanut butter, applesauce, and cocoa powder ever bake up into a brownie? I don’t know what kind of mad science is involved, but what I can tell you is that these things are pretty amazing. Drop everything and try them yourself!

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You can head on over to Ambitious Kitchen for the recipe. I used maple syrup instead of honey, and I added about 1/2 a teaspoon of cayenne pepper just to give it a bit of spice. If you have a peanut allergy, I’m sure you could substitute almond or cashew butter, or even sunflower butter to make it nut-free. I’m sure there are many things you could stir in to add or change the flavors–peppermint oil and chopped nuts come to mind. Well, what are you waiting for? Get baking!

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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

vegan stir fry, asian-style

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Today’s lunch was one of those happy, unplanned meals. I was fully prepared to make a salad with beans or wheat berries or something along those lines this afternoon. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to pick up a few staples for my VB6 pantry (see my previous post). I wanted to grab a few mushrooms in the produce section and discovered that they had fresh shiitake today. I have been looking for dried ones for a while because I’m out, and I have a few Japanese dishes I want to make that call for shiitake. I was quite happy to find the fresh ones since Asian produce is pretty sparse in this area. I also picked up some bean sprouts and tofu.  Continue reading

banana wheat berry breakfast

20130724-153612.jpgI like to put quinoa in salads to make it a meal, mix it into yogurt for breakfast, or use it as a side at dinner. I have been meaning to branch out into other grains like barley, farro, kasha, wheat berries, etc., but haven’t done much cooking so far this summer. When I returned from all of my summer traveling last week, my parents informed me they were starting a new eating plan: Vegan Before 6. This is more of a lifestyle change than a diet–eat vegan for breakfast and lunch, then allow yourself some meat at dinner, but think of the meat as a side, and the vegetables as your main. There are great health benefits to this plan that you can read about in Mark Bittman’s book, and it’s not that difficult to do. Rather than becoming a full time vegan, you can still have your meat, dairy, cheese, etc., but in moderation, and for one meal. And he says it’s okay to cheat once in a while, so what’s not to love? Especially if you’re a tried and true carnivore like me. Since I usually eat a few meals a week at my parents’, I thought I would give VB6 a try as well.

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cyprus village salad, with a twist

My favorite salad used to be a Cyprus-style cabbage salad. I now tend to steer towards lettuce salads with lemon, balsamic, etc., but I still really enjoy this one. It’s very simple to make and there are endless variations. You need shredded cabbage and some other veggies of your choice–I usually use tomato, cucumber, and celery. Today I added green peppers, sweet peppers from my garden, shredded carrot, and parsley. The dressing is very basic, but bright and fresh: olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and salt. For a single serving salad, I’d use at least half a lemon. The more lemon, the better! Again, for variety today, I made it Ajmer-style by adding a dash of cumin. Ajmer was my favorite Indian restaurant in Japan and they’d always bring out a cabbage salad with some cumin as a starter.

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my nana’s refrigerator pickles

I used these pickles in last night’s summer burger, so I thought I’d post the recipe (sorry, no lemons here today). My Nana used to make these every summer, and they were always one of my favorites. In fact, when I was younger, they were the only pickles I liked, other than Japanese pickles. A fond memory of my Nana was when I was trying to force myself to like dill pickles. She told me that pickles weren’t good for you anyway, so if I didn’t like them, I didn’t have to eat them. 🙂

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nana’s refrigerator pickles

1 cup vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. celery seed

Mix together thoroughly. Do not heat.

Add:
6 cups sliced unpeeled cucumbers
1 cup thinly sliced onions

Refrigerate and enjoy! They’re good to eat in a few hours, but they’re even better days and weeks later.

breakfast of champions

What’s better on a Saturday morning than a giant bowl of fruit for breakfast? How about a giant bowl of fruit with fresh-squeezed lemon juice?

20110910-110015.jpgYou could put any kind of fruit you want in here. I used what I had on hand which this morning was kiwis, nectarines, grapes, banana, avocado, and watermelon. And of course, fresh lemon juice. Not only does everything taste bright and fresh, if you are preparing a fruit salad several hours in advance, the lemon juice will keep your fruits from turning brown. You could also add nuts, yogurt, granola, quinoa, honey, etc. The possibilities are endless!

red quinoa with cucumbers and grapes

Tonight’s salad was made by my mother, although it’s very similar to salads I’ve made. Surprisingly, for being a full-blooded Cypriot, she didn’t put even close to the amount of lemon I would have used. In her defense, she did run out of lemons, which is a dire emergency in my book, and only put two in the salad. For the size of the salad, I probably would have used three or four lemons.

This is my first time trying red quinoa. Not only is it a beautiful color when cooked, it has a nutty flavor, and has a slightly harder texture than regular quinoa. It can be hard to find in the stores–I found it hiding on the back of a shelf in the pasta/grain aisle at Market District in Robinson. I haven’t seen it anywhere else. If you happen to find it, buy it up right away! And if you’re not so lucky, the salad will taste just fine with good old regular quinoa.

There are no measurements because my mother and I don’t measure when making salads like this. Basically, you want just enough oil to coat the salad, not so much that it’s swimming in oil–you can always add more, but it’s hard to take out if you add too much. The lemon, vinegar, and seasonings, add to your taste.

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ingredients

  • red quinoa, prepared according to package directions
  • seedless cucumber, diced
  • red grapes, halved
  • red onion, diced
  • scallions, thinly sliced
  • dried cranberries
  • grated lemon zest
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • red wine vinegar, optional
  • salt and pepper, to taste

directions

Mix together the quinoa, cucumbers, red onion, grapes, scallions, cranberries, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Coat lightly with olive oil and toss. Add lemon juice and vinegar, if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

peach, basil and red onion salad

One of my favorite finds of the summer: savory and sweet peach, basil and red onion salad! Very simple to make and sure to impress your guests.

directions

Toss 3 peaches, sliced 1/2 inch thick, with 1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced, 1/3 cup fresh basil (leaves torn if large), the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.

Simple and tasty! Can be eaten on its own or as a side with grilled chicken, etc.