Sunday, March 26, 2017

In Praise of Pomegranate Molasses

Today I want to take a moment to highlight one my favorite new--or at least new to me--ingredients: pomegranate molasses.

I'd seen it in Middle Eastern bodegas throughout my neighborhood for some time, but I got newly intrigued when a friend from work said she was buying a bottle to make an Israeli couscous dish. Then someone at a shabbat dinner told me she likes to drizzle some in her orange juice or use it as a dipping sauce for grape leaves.  and I started salivating.

So I picked up a bottle for $2.99 and found it reminded me a lot of a balsamic vinegar glaze--slightly thick and tangy.  The orange juice mix was a bit of a bust for me, but the pomegranate molasses turned out to be a great addition to hummus.  Later in the week I made a batch of stuffed grape leaves, and the woman at shabbat was right: that was the magic combination.  The slight tartness and sweetness of the pomegranate really complemented the spices in the grape leaves.  I also started to take a little bit to work in a pill bottle and poured some over various salads.

It's a bit messy to store and keep, as it drips everywhere and leaves a ring on my counter top--but it's a yummy ring!  Definitely a win!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Power to the Polenta

Hello veggies!

Welcome back from a bit of an absence.  I've been mostly living on Instagram the last few years--to see what I have been cooking and posting there, you can follow me @theprodigalvegan.

Also--new name!  I'm now The Prodigal Vegan, which will tie in with a solo show I am developing for next month at La MaMa in New York as part of their Poetry Electric Series.

But more on the solo show later.  Today I want to talk about polenta.  Because I am kind of obsessed with polenta right now.

For those who aren't familiar, polenta is a cornmeal-based dish that can either be made firm like a cake or more liquid-like for a kind of porridge.  For years I used to buy the pre-made stuff at Trader Joe's that comes shaped like a sausage, until I realized how easy and delicious it is to make from scratch.

Since I've gone full-on vegan at home this year, creamy polenta has been a great savory breakfast solution for those days when I really miss stuff like middle-eastern shakshuka.  I made some yesterday with some leftover veggies and soy chorizo I happened to have on hand and the results were pretty stellar.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dairy Free Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Cups

It's pumpkin season, and tonight I'm going to share with you one of my favorite quick and easy dairy-free dessert strategies.  

In grad school, I briefly became obsessed with microwave mug cakes.  The great part about these sorts of things is that you can get a sweet fix without having to use up a ton of ingredients making (and then eating) a whole batch of cupcakes.  

When I moved into my current apartment, neither myself nor my roommate had a microwave of our own.  And being raised by vegetable steaming health nuts, it was hard to justify spending money on such an appliance.  

But I was still a writer with a late night sweet tooth, so I went back to a strategy I had discovered during a homemade candy phase a few years back.  It's the same basic formula using coconut oil I used to come up with the coconut bars I posted about last year.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Vegan Comfort Food for Fall: Creamy Butternut Squash Casserole and Apple-Chard Quinoa Bowl

I love fall.  I love layers, and warm beverages, and piling covers high.

But mostly, I love fall because as the weather gets cooler, I have an excuse to cook again.  While the summer heat makes the idea of sweating over a hot stove less than appealing, in the fall and winter all I want to do is cocoon.  Sometimes when I'm having a rough day at work, fantasizing about what I will make when I get home is about all that gets me through.

Vegan Creamy Butternut Squash Casserole
Such was the case last Saturday, when I made the completely logical decision to work a midday shift at Trader Joe's while fasting for Yom Kippur.  When not eating, it's amazing how much you realize the large role it plays in your life.  No point in getting up early if I wasn't making lunch or planning to swipe some free samples at the demo station. And then during my lunch break, I couldn't help but torture myself flipping through all the luscious pumpkin-themed items in the company bulletin.  

As the rain poured outside, I started to dream about all of the things I could cook when I got home. The more I read and thought about the new pumpkin products, the more I decided that winter squash was the way to go.  Like the "Chopped" addict I am, I thought about what I could do with the items in my refrigerator: namely, an open can of coconut cream.  Having just paid my rent, I was loathe to drop too much cash on a boatload of emotional grocery purchases (which is how I ended up with the coconut cream in the first place).  I had been living on soup the previous week to get over a cold, and felt like doing something with a little more "oomph" and texture than simply pureeing some veggies.  

So started conducting an informal survey among my customers, asking what they would make with the coconut cream.  The typical answer was some kind of soup or curry, that was too much in like with what I had been eating lately.  I had a taste for something creamy, something almost cheesy--but I knew if I went down the cheese rabbit hole who knows what I would end up buying.  One customer, a Caribbean guy, bought four cans of coconut milk. I asked him how he thought it would be if I used the coconut cream as a base for a gratin. "I cook everything in coconut milk," he said.  So it was settled.  

Now I had a plan:  I would buy a butternut squash, and make some kind of cream sauce.  I could even use this as an excuse to use up the remainder of a cauliflower head and some apples I bought a few weeks ago that I never got around to eating.   Because Trader Joe's was out of whole butternut squashes by the time I was done working, I had to debase myself by purchasing the pre-cut product.  

The result:  comfort.  Pure, vegan, autumnal comfort.  

This evening, I found myself leaving Rutgers weighed down with the latest round of student essays to read.  While my bus was stuck in traffic outside the Lincoln Tunnel, I started to think about what I would make for dinner.  I could always make some couscous or pasta with parmesan, but I'd had variations on that theme for the past week.  I had a yen for something green.  But because I went to the theatre last night, I was unable to bring home anything fresh from Trader Joe's.  

After I got back to my neighborhood, I lugged my tote bags full of folders to the local food mart.  My eyes lit on some gorgeous organic red chard for only $1.69.

Apple-Chard Quinoa Bowl

I decided to cook the chard in some apples and onions and eat it on top of red quinoa.  And it was good.

Here are the recipes.  Note:  all of the measurements are approximate.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Dairy-free, Gluten-free Almond Joy Bars

A few weeks ago I had my friend Amanda Berry over to make vegan lime coconut cupcakes.  I ended up having A LOT of extra unsweetened coconut, so I've been looking for fun ways to use it.  It was then that I rediscovered this recipe for vegan coconut crack bars.  I picked up some agave and set myself to work.  However, when I made them I forgot to add the salt, so the flavor came out a bit "off." Undeterred and unwilling to retreat, I turned to one of my late night sweet tooth short cuts: mixing cocoa powder with some coconut oil and agave nectar.  I spread on my chocolate, popped them back in the freezer and well...judge for yourself: 

Vegan Almond Joy Bars

1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon agave nectar

In a food processor or personal blender, shred coconut.  Add coconut oil, agave, vanilla, and salt and blend to combine.  

Press mixture into a small tupperware (I used a 24-ounce container) and place in the freezer for 20 minutes.

To make the chocolate, combine ingredients in a small bowl and spread over top of the coconut mixture.  Cut into squares.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Coconut Oil and Sugar Face Scrub

A facial scrub may seem like an out-of-place subject for a food blog.  But it's made out of food so that still fits the rules, correct?

At any rate, I discovered this facial scrub a few years ago and I thought I needed to share.

Growing up, I never had a problem with dry skin.  But one semester in college took a stage makeup class while also starring as the Rabbi in Angels in America, which forced me to load massive amounts of liquid latex onto my face every day for weeks.  My skin has never really forgiven me for this assault, and every winter since I have been afflicted with horrible dryness. (That month canvassing outside last January probably didn't help).

Over the years I tried several strategies to alleviate it, from vaseline to cocoa butter sticks.  I found relieve from certain Aveda lotions, but those became pricey.

My last year of grad school I acquired two different books that detailed homemade body care and household remedies.  While many of them required prohibitively obscure and expensive ingredients
(who has grapefruit essential oil around?) they sparked my imagination and sent me to the internet to find remedies with ingredients I already had. My first success was an olive oil, lemon, sea salt scrub.  But then I acquired a jar of coconut oil for a vegan cheesecake recipe and I was sold.

So here it is--so easy it's ridiculous.

Coconut Oil Sugar Scrub

1 tablespoon of virgin coconut oil (Trader Joe's sells it for $5.99)
1 tablespoon organic sugar (I usually use white, but some also advocate brown)

Mix ingredients in a small bowl with a fork or popsicle stick.  After washing makeup off face, apply thin layer of scrub.  Leave on for a few minutes.  Rinse off.  Enjoy your soft, silky skin.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Moroccan Couscous Stew with Soy Chorizo

Every cook--particularly a vegetarian one--needs to have a couple of go-to recipes, dishes that you keep in your back pocket that look amazing and require minimal effort or extra ingredients.    Moroccan couscous stew has been one of those dishes for some time now. It's quick, easy, and the best part is you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand.  What distinguishes it from the usual vegetable soup is the spices--the cinnamon and cumin really give it that North African flair. In my stew, I like to use some fresh orange juice and zest, a tip I gleaned from an online recipe about a year ago.  And the soy chorizo is by no means necessary; I happened to have some lying around and wanted to find a use other than chili to use it up. 

Interesting fact: so in the US, when we think of couscous, what usually comes to mind is the tiny pasta.  When I was living in France, where Algerian and Moroccan food is extremely popular, "couscous" specifically referred to the pasta topped with the stew.  Without the stew, people simply referred to it is "semoule" (semolina, the flour used to make it). 

And now, the recipe.  Like most of my recipes, measurements are eyeballed.  The idea is to get your mind started.

Moroccan Couscous Stew With Soy Chorizo

1 cup couscous, dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup diced potato or butternut squash (optional)
1 tomato, diced
3 cups water or broth
1/4 cup any of the following: frozen peas, zucchini, squash or anything else you have lying around
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 orange, diced
1/2 cup chickpeas
1/4 cup soy chorizo
cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, turmeric, salt and pepper to taste

Cook couscous according to package instructions.  Set aside.

Heat oil in pan.  Add onion, garlic, carrots, and turmeric.  If using potato or butternut squash, you can add those at this time as well.  Cook until tender.  Add tomatoes and saute another few minutes.

Add water or broth.  Next, add veggies, orange zest, diced orange, chickpeas and soy chorizo.  Add spices to taste.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until flavors are adequately melded.  Serve over couscous.