Real Food. Real Stories. Oh Yeah.

Archive for the ‘Lunch’ Category

Chinese 5-Spice Tofu and Broccoli

Have you had it up to here with boring stir-fry? Give this one a whirl!

Image

Chinese 5-Spice Tofu and Broccoli

I’ve been vegetarian for six years, and my favorite dishes have changed and expanded ever since. But like a loyal friend, tofu and broccoli has always been there for me. It’s reliable, it’s easy to make, and it makes it seem like I put way more effort into lunch or dinner than I actually did. What’s not to love?

Well, one thing that could lessen the love is a lack of variety. I like making tofu and broccoli because it’s fast and dependable, but even fast and dependable can be made better with a little sprucing up. Enter Chinese 5-Spice. Chinese 5-Spice is a blend of black pepper, star anise, cinnamon, fennel, and cloves – it’s warm, it smells great, and best of all, it’s pretty cheap!

What follows is not only my secret for the easiest vegan meal you’ll ever make that doesn’t come from a can, but also a method to jazz it up with a very flavorful seasoning.

Image

Tofu: "Please, make me pretty!"

To start, take about a quarter of a block of tofu and cut into bite-size pieces. Sometimes I cut the tofu into cubes for faster cooking and easier stirring; but in this dish, you’ll want relatively-larger pieces for easy frying. You can pat your tofu somewhat dry if you like, but don’t drain it or make it bone-dry – you’ll want some moisture to help the spice mixture stick! No eggs or oil required.

Heat a blend of olive and sesame oils in a skillet on medium. Meanwhile, put about 1-2 tsp of Chinese 5-Spice into a small bowl with a flat bottom (you can also use a small plate, just be careful to not send the spices flying everywhere as you dredge). When the skillet is hot enough, dredge each piece of tofu in the spice blend to coat evenly. The moisture from the tofu will make the spice blend cling to it and form a nice coat.

Image

Image

Once each piece is coated, add it to the skillet and start frying!

Image

Allow the tofu to cook on one side for up to 5 minutes, then flip. Scoot all of the pieces to one side of the pan, then add your broccoli. Adding the broccoli at this step as opposed to earlier allows it to cook through without getting soggy or burnt – it’ll be just perfect!

You may also have some extra spice left in your bowl (as I often do). Instead of cursing at your wasted spice, take what’s left and sprinkle it over the broccoli! Stir the broccoli so it gets coated in both oil and spice; if the broccoli seems dry, spray with some cooking oil. Do not add water or excess oil, as this will make the spices fall off off your food and into the skillet; we’re not eating the skillet for lunch so it shouldn’t get all of the seasoning! Once the remaining 5-Spice has been added, sprinkle both the tofu and broccoli with some sea salt to bring out the flavor further (avoid soy sauce as this will also wash off your spices).

Image

Yummy

Allow the tofu and broccoli to cook for about 5 minutes more, then turn off your heat and serve! I like eating this over a bed of quinoa for extra protein, but you can substitute your grain of choice – or use no grain at all! Happy eating!

Image

Advertisements

Watermelon and Pickled Cucumber Coleslaw

It’s the peak of summer – time to cool down with some coleslaw!

Watermelon and Pickled Cucumber Coleslaw

When I think of summer, I think of outdoor barbeques. And when I think of barbeques, I think of coleslaw. Of course, like many folks, when I think of coleslaw I think of a few strands of slaw mix drowning in mayonnaise and sugar. Not exactly the most appetizing side dish. So when I stocked up on some watermelon and cucumbers from the Farmers Market, and also found a head of local cabbage for sale at Whole Foods, I decided to make my own version of this summer staple, bursting with veggies and not drowning in dressing!

To start, I cut up about seven slices of a large cucumber, about a cup of slices before quartering. I then quartered the slices so they’d be more “bite-size” in this salad. I then put them in a small bowl and covered them with rice vinegar to quickly “pickle” them. I got this technique from Eat This (Not That), and while they recommend using rice vinegar, I’m sure you could use white vinegar or even apple cider vinegar with similar success. I then let the cucumbers sit in the vinegar and “pickle” for 30 minutes. This results in a nice sour cucumber that’s still crisp and fresh, so don’t sub regular pickles that have been pickling for a really long time!

My mom used to slice up a cucumber, soak the slices in vinegar, then season them with cracked pepper and serve them as a side dish. It's so yummy!

The pickling is the longest part of the salad if you’re using pre-sliced watermelon, making the rest of the steps very easy! About halfway through the pickling process, I took a quarter of a large head of cabbage and shredded it. This can either be done with a fancy shredding tool, or by chopping the cabbage into strips, then chopping finely with a chef’s knife by moving over the cabbage in a half-moon motion, like a pendulum swinging over your cabbage. Both techniques result in a great coleslaw texture. I then put the cabbage in a large bowl.

Rather than dowse the cabbage in mayo or even vegan mayo, I decided to keep it light, spicy, and sweet by mixing German mustard with some agave nectar. You could probably use spicy brown mustard as a sub, but this may affect the taste! I then added the dressing to the cabbage, threw in some salt and pepper, and stirred to cover the cabbage. It may seem like there’s not enough, but trust me, it will taste just right!

Fun fact: "col" is the Spanish word for "cabbage"

I then measured out some watermelon chunks. I usually cut up my watermelon right when I buy it, storing the large chunks in the fridge for later use. I highly recommend doing this since it makes enjoying a large watermelon very simple, and it keeps very well in an airtight container! I then cubed the watermelon to make them more bite-size and added them to the cabbage, stirring to get them covered with dressing. I then drained my cucumber slices, added them to the slaw, tossed, and voila! A delicious, healthy coleslaw that’s bursting with fruits and veggies, while not drowning in fat. Everyone wins!

This coleslaw is especially yummy because of all the different flavors happening. The cucumbers are nice and sour, the watermelon is sweet and cold, and the cabbage, in both mustard and agave, is a happy harmony of both sensations. You can either have a big helping as a lunch salad, or serve up smaller portions alongside a grilled portobello burger or other vegetarian barbecue staple. Enjoy!

Watermelon and Pickled Cucumber Coleslaw (Serves 2 or more)

7 slices of cucumber (about 1 cup), measured first, then quartered

Rice vinegar, to cover the cucumbers (about 1/4 to 1/3 a cup)

1 quarter of a head of fresh cabbage

3 TB German mustard

1 TB agave nectar

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup watermelon chunks, measured first, then cubed

Pink pepper, to taste (optional)

Place quartered cucumber slices in a small bowl, then pour rice vinegar over the slices until covered. Let sit for 30 minutes, occasionally shaking the bowl to cover any floating pieces.

Finely chop or shred the cabbage, then place in a large bowl. Whisk together the mustard and agave until smooth, then pour over the cabbage. Add salt and pepper, then mix until the cabbage is evenly coated. If the cucumbers are still pickling, allow the slaw to sit to let the flavors meld.

When the cucumbers are ready, drain them, then add to the slaw. Add your watermelon, then toss to coat and combine with the slaw. When serving, garnish with pink pepper if desired.

Eggplant and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Soba Noodles

Nothing like a good stir-fry loaded with veggies!

Eggplant and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Soba Noodles

I often extol the virtues of a stir-fry; and while my go-to for a long time has been a simple Tofu and Broccoli stir-fry, I’ve been trying to expand the list of ingredients I fry up in the skillet. Eggplants fit this bill perfectly, especially since eggplant in general is not a food I tend to eat. I’ve only recently begun buying eggplant on my own free will to prepare in dishes, and when I found some adorable miniature eggplant at the farmer’s market last week, I decided that a stir-fry was just the ticket.

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny purple stemmy eggplants!

To start, I cut up two miniature eggplants into coins. Do this first if you’ll be ready to add them to the skillet within five minutes; otherwise they’ll start turning brown from oxidation. This doesn’t hurt them, it just makes them look a little less appealing. Anyhoo, I then diced up the whites of two spring onions, setting aside the stems for later to add as a garnish; and two cloves of garlic. I heated up my go-to blend of olive and toasted sesame oils on medium, then sauteed the onions and garlic for about one minute before adding the eggplant.

After letting the eggplant cook a bit, I added Braggs liquid aminos, mirin, and rice vinegar to really give this somewhat neutral vegetable a punch of flavor. I then allowed the eggplant to cook for awhile before adding additional ingredients – eggplants are very moist, and need more time than sturdier veggies to heat through and really soak up the flavor! After a few minutes I added the green beans, stirring to get them coated. I wasn’t particularly concerned with getting the seasonings cooked into the green beans because I think they have a swell-enough flavor on their own; they just needed to heat through a bit. Up next, I added a couple large dashes of cayenne to spice it up, then topped off the stir-fry with my not-so-secret but all-too-important ingredient: nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast adds some amazing flavor as well as texture to a stir-fry, especially one with soft ingredients like eggplant. Give it a try!

While the veggies finished up and the soba noodles finished boiling (you can prepare your noodles while stir-frying everything up), I chopped my spring onion stems into small circles to add as a garnish. To make the meal, I spooned out some soba noodles, topped them with my sauteed vegetables, and garnished with the spring onion stems and sesame seeds. This meal is great for a relatively fast, hot lunch that satisfies; and it features seasonal ingredients front and center. Enjoy!

Eggplant and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Soba Noodles (Serves 1)

Prepared soba noodles, hot

2 tsp olive oil

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 spring onions, white parts chopped, green leafy stems set aside

2 miniature eggplants, cut into coins (or 1 cup eggplant chunks)

1 TB Bragg’s liquid aminos, or soy sauce

1 tsp mirin

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 cup green beans, chopped into matchstick pieces

Cayenne, to taste

2 TB nutritional yeast

Sesame seeds

If your soba noodles are not yet prepared, boil them while you cook your vegetables.

Heat oils on medium in a skillet. Add the onions and garlic and saute for about a minute. Add the eggplant, stirring to coat with oil and mix with the onions and garlic. Add the Braggs, mirin, and rice vinegar. Cook for a few minutes, allowing the eggplant to brown. Add the green beans, mixing well. Add the cayenne and mix, then sprinkle with nutritional yeast and toss. Cook for up to a minute more. While the vegetables finish cooking, chop the spring onion stems into small pieces.

Spoon vegetables over soba noodles. Garnish with spring onion stems and sesame seeds. Serve hot.

White Gazpacho (Gazpacho with Cucumber and Grapes)

Who says tomatoes should have all the fun?

White Gazpacho

As previously noted, I love making cold soups with cucumbers. Cucumber has such a nice, refreshing taste – it’s almost like water in produce form! I’m also absolutely crazy for white grapes. I like them a bit more than red grapes because they’re a bit more tart, and I love tart. Plus, they’re such a pretty green color!

So you can bet that when I found this recipe for White Gazpacho from Vegetarian Times, I was dancing in my livingroom. The soup looked refreshing, seemed easy to prepare, featured ingredients commonly found in my kitchen, and most importantly, looked REALLY TASTY!

To start, I sliced up one medium cucumber. I personally love cucumber skin and don’t really understand why cucumber soup recipes tell you to remove it. Maybe it’s just a personal preference, but I’d rather leave on the skin (and the vitamins that come with it) than strip down the cukes! You can remove the skin if you like though, as they instruct. I then added the white grapes, slivered almonds (which I bought raw and just toasted briefly in a skillet on medium heat), garlic (I used one smallish clove even though I halved the recipe, so this soup lends itself to a higher garlic content if you so please), and red onion.

I used a food processor for this gazpacho, but you can likely use a blender just as easily - just maybe chop the cucumbers a bit more depending on blender strength

Now, the recipe calls for a sweet onion, but all I had was a red onion. I actually recommend using the red onion in place of the sweet onion because the intense onion flavor combined with the grapes was absolutely amazing. I may or may not have exclaimed out loud by myself in the livingroom upon taking my first bite; but if I did, I can assure you that it was because the delicate intensity of the onion made this soup a real stand-out.

Once the solid ingredients were pureed, I added some almond milk, balsamic vinegar (which can be used as a sub for sherry vinegar), and olive oil. I also added pinches of salt and pepper directly into the soup and blended them in, as opposed to garnishing with these seasonings afterward. Once done, I placed in the fridge to chill for about an hour – a must not only to make the soup nice and cold, but to let the flavors meld together.  When ready to serve, garnish the soup with some grapes and almonds. The recipe recommends adding arugula to the garnish; I didn’t add this simply because I didn’t have any. I’m sure it’s very delicious though!

This soup is incredible as far as taste. All of the flavors go together really nicely, and each fruit, vegetable, and nut gets its place in the sun thanks to light seasonings. It’s perfect for a hot day, especially since cucumbers and grapes both have a high water content. Enjoy!

Green Bean and Apricot Salad with Mint

Fruits + veggies = awesome salad. I think Pythagoras came up with that.

Green Bean and Apricot Salad with Mint

I’ve loved green beans (sometimes called string beans) since I was a little kid, especially raw green beans. Some of my happiest memories involve munching on raw green beans while Mom wheeled me around the Stop and Shop in the grocery cart. Canned, salty green beans have their place, but nothing tops the crisp, sweet freshness of a raw green bean. My grandma, however, used to flip out when I ate raw green beans, because apparently someone started a rumor that raw green beans were terrible for you. My aunt informed me that the rumor when she was growing up was that raw green beans gave you worms, and a quick Google search led me to other rumors such as toxicity. Well, I’ve eaten tons of raw green beans in my lifetime and lived to tell the tale; so unless I’m some kind of mutant, I’m thinking this is just a rumor (maybe one started by the Jolly Green Giant company).

Because raw green beans are sweet, I figured they would go great in a salad with fruit, mint, and a sweet dressing. In further pondering, I decided to pair them with raw apricots. Raw apricots, unlike their dried counterparts, have a bit of a sweet/tart flavor, which complements sweet green beans very well.

To start, I chopped up some green beans into small matchstick pieces, as shown below. I also removed the tops and bottoms, which are generally  pointy, stringy, and/or stem-y (stem-y is an adjective now) – characteristics I don’t necessarily want in a salad.

I then sliced up two apricots. I used one standard orange apricot, and one red velvet apricot (sometimes called black apricots). The latter is a deep red and tastes kind of like a plum. If you see them at the store, give them a try! I sliced both into large coins and added them to the green beans, along with a carrot, slivered almonds, and spearmint. I happened to have spearmint lying around so that’s what I used; but I’m sure any mint will do. I then whisked together some olive oil and agave nectar to create a light dressing, poured it over the vegetables, and tossed. While allowing this mixture to sit, I tore up some kale and placed it on my plate. I then added the properly-dressed veggies and fruits, seasoned with pink peppercorns, and voila! A refreshing summer salad that’s made with several seasonal ingredients. Enjoy!

Green Bean and Apricot Salad with Mint (Serves 1)

1 cup chopped raw green beans

2 apricots, thinly sliced into coins

1 carrot, cut into coins

2 TB slivered almonds

1-2 TB minced fresh spearmint

1 TB olive oil

1 tsp agave nectar

2 cups torn kale

Pink pepper, to taste

Combine the green beans, apricots, carrot, almonds, and mint in a small bowl. Whisk together the oil and agave until well-blended, then drizzle over the fruits and vegetables, tossing to coat. Allow to sit for a few minutes. Place the torn kale on a plate, then top with the green bean/apricot mixture. Top with fresh pink pepper and extra mint leaves, if desired.

Cucumber Radish Soup

Summer’s here, meaning it’s time to cool down the soup!

Cucumber Radish Soup

I am a relatively recent convert to cold soups. It’s like having a smoothie, but less sweet and in a bowl; and they’re perfect for summer! Soups make a great meal because you can load many different kinds of vegetables into them, and they’re a change of pace from salads and the like. Gazpacho is a given as far as a tasty cold soup, and I have also tried fruity ones with success (I still dream about a cold watermelon soup I had at an Italian restaurant about a month ago). I am also a fan of cucumber soups, and decided to make my own with ingredients I had lying around the house.

I am also a recent convert to radishes. I’ve never disliked them, but I never really bought them to keep around the house for my culinary use. However, in my quest to largely stick with Farmer’s Market produce, I decided to give radishes a try, as they had some great-looking ones at the Farmer’s Market last week. Like most vegetables, radishes are (surprise) very good for you – they’re very high in Vitamin C, and the leaves are a good source of calcium. Plus, they’re nice and spicy!

Mm, radishes

I thought that spicy radishes would make a a nice complement to cool cucumber in a cold soup. So, I combined the two with a spring onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and almond milk in a blender, pureeing until nice and smooth. Did I mention that cold soups are probably one of the easiest meals in existence? The hardest part is waiting for an hour or so to eat it, since it needs an hour minimum to chill; so don’t make this if you’re hungry! Make it ahead of time and allow it to not only get cool, but develop a nice flavor. Speaking of, the spices are to taste; and the soup may seem a touch sparse upon first sip. I highly encourage taking a few bites before adding more seasoning, as the garlic, onion, and radish will hit you in the aftertaste! It creates a smooth, mellow taste that lingers as opposed to smacking you right away. But if, after a bit, it’s still too plain, feel free to add some more salt and pepper to your liking.

This soup goes well with a nice bread dipped in a seasoned olive oil. Dig in!

Cucumber Radish Soup (Serves 2)

1 small pickling cucumber (or half of a large cucumber)

2 radishes

1 large or 2-3 small spring onions, white parts only

2 cloves of garlic

1 cup plain unsweetened almond milk

1 tsp dried peppermint OR 1-2 TB minced fresh peppermint

1/4 to 1/2 tsp cumin, or to taste

Coriander, salt, and pepper, to taste

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. You may want to chop the vegetables first (unless you have an incredibly strong blender). Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Cauliflower Home Fries

Fire up the skillet – it’s time for some home fries!

Cauliflower Home Fries

Cauliflower is often overshadowed by the similar-looking broccoli, but I’ve grown to love this little white vegetable. It has a crisp bite, a delicately sweet flavor, and is versatile when it comes to cooking. Plus, like many vegetables, it may help protect folks from cancer and is a great source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and omega-3’s. What’s not to love?

Another great thing about cauliflower is that it lends itself to many potato dishes, due to it’s white color and relatively neutral flavor. I love potatoes, but sometimes I want potato goodness without the heft and starch that often accompanies potato dishes. I’ve seen (and made) mashed cauliflower before with good results. So I thought, why not use cauliflower to make home fries?

To me, a good plate of home fries will have a great garlic flavor. I started by finely mincing two cloves of garlic, then stirring them into some olive oil and allowing the mixture to sit for a bit, letting the flavors meld. If you have a garlic press, use this tool; I have a plate that minces garlic in this manner. While the garlic and oil sat, I chopped my cauliflower. Rather than breaking off small florets, I took big chunks of cauliflower and sliced them horizontally, so that some pieces were more like home fry potato discs – not an exact replica, but you get the idea.

Sliced cauliflower coins next to a big cauliflower "potato"

From here it’s really easy. I placed both the oil and garlic into a skillet and heated it on medium. Once ready, I added the cauliflower, stirring it well with the oil to really get it coated, especially with the garlic. I then threw in some salt, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne. I cooked the cauliflower for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cooking for a long while lets the spices soak in and softens the cauliflower, but it won’t get mushy or soggy during this length of time. Some pieces might burn a bit, but that’s okay! Personally I like my home fries crispy.

This is great for brunch or lunch, especially with a tofu scramble. Now, how can I convert cauliflower into hash browns?

Cauliflower Home Fries (Serves 1-2)

2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced

1 TB olive oil

2 cups cauliflower florets

Salt, pepper, cumin, and cayenne, to taste

Stir the pressed garlic into the olive oil and allow to sit for awhile to let the flavors blend. Slice the cauliflower into horizontal coins.

Heat the oil and garlic in a skillet on medium. Add the cauliflower, and stir for a minute or two, covering the cauliflower with the oil and garlic. Add the spices, then cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.