Spanakopita

A big upside of vegan cheesemongering is that it’s possible to recreate fabulous cheesy dishes. They taste so much like the original, it’s like sorcery! This was my first venture into phyllo dough territory–hence the less-than-perfect presentation. But the dish itself was tasty and filling, and also healthy–full of spinach. It’s a hefty project, so set aside some time to play with this.

Phase 1: The Preparing of the Dough

1 package whole wheat phyllo
parchment paper
damp paper towels
3 tbsp vegan butter or olive oil
3 bay leaves

Defrost the phyllo. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on your work area. Slowly and carefully unroll the phyllo. Place some damp paper towels on the rolled dough leaves.

In a little pan, heat up oil or butter with bay leaves, until aromatic (and, in the butter case, melted.)

Phase 2: The Preparing of the Filling

1 tsp olive oil
1 pound spinach, chopped
1 tbsp herbs de provence
1 tbsp sage
1 tbsp oregano
1 large handful chopped green onion – white and green parts
1/2 cup almond feta
4 tbsp flax seeds
10 tbsp water
juice from 1 lemon + some lemon zest

Grind flax seeds and mix with water. Set aside.
In a large pan, heat up olive oil and add herbs de provence, sage, oregano, and green onion. When the herbs are fragrant, add chopped spinach and move it around the pan until it wilts and softens. Turn off the heat.
When the spinach is no longer piping hot, mash feta into flax mixture and add to spinach. Mix well. Add lemon and lemon zest for a last quick mix.

Phase 3: Assembly

With a little rubber brush, oil a 9×13 lasagna pan.
Place the top phyllo leaf in the pan, with its sides draping over the pan. Dip brush in oil/butter and lightly oil the leaf. Place a second leaf on top, also draping over pan. Lightly brush that one as well with oil. Repeat until you have about 6 layers.

Spoon spinach mixture over the leaves and flatten with a spatula. Then, fold the draping corners of the dough over the mixture.

Place a phyllo leaf on top of the mixture, carefully tucking its corners around the mix. Lightly brush its top with oil. Place a second leaf on top, also brushing with oil. Repeat until you have 6-8 layers. End with a light brush of oil.

Phase 4: Bakeage 

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 mins, or until top layers are golden and crumbly.

Zchug Jack

My vegan cheesemongering adventures continue! To the left are two new cheeses I made today: on the far left is a new batch of cheddar and on the right, zchug jack.

Zchug is a Yemenite hot pepper paste used with pretty much everything. It’s delicious and makes for a neat substitute for jalapeños in this recipe, but you can do what Miyoko Schinner recommends in The Homemade Vegan Pantry and use fresh or canned jalapeños.

Step 1: Culturing

1 cup cashews
1 cup rejuvelac
1 tsp salt

Place in blender, blendblendblend until smooth. Place in container with jar (I use a plastic yogurt container.) Be sure to leave room at the top, because this thing expands like there’s no tomorrow when it cultures.

But happily, there *is* a tomorrow, and when you open the container the next morning, see whether the thing has changed. It will unmistakably morph: air bubbles, yeasty scent, expansion, gooey texture.

Step 2: Cookin’

1/2 cup water
1 tbsp agar
the cheese mix from before
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp tapioca

On low heat, simmer 1/2 cup water and 1 tbsp agar in a lidded saucepan. Don’t peak for 3-4 mins. Then open lid, and make sure that the agar is bubbling away. When it finishes the bubbling process, scoop in all the gooey cheese mix and whisk well.

At the same time, quickly dissolve 2 tbsp tapioca in 2 tbsp water. Add to mix and whisk.

Mix until the thing becomes stretchy and shiny.

Step 3: Settin’

2 tbsp zchug, jalapeño, or other hot pepper product of your choice

Add zchug to cheese mix and mix well. Then, pour into container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours for the cheese to set.

Play Review: The Box by Sarah Shourd

It’s hard to say that watching The Box, Sarah Shourd’s new play, was a pleasurable pastime. But it was an important play, incisively written, beautifully acted, and impressively produced, that could not leave the audience indifferent.

The Box is a play about solitary confinement. In a cleverly constructed set of six cells, approximately the size of a real SHU cell, sit six prisoners. Some are there for a brief disciplinary interlude; some have been there for years. Shourd’s characters are fictional, but their biographies are reminders of real people in solitary, such as the Angola Three and Todd Ashker.

With the views, video projections, and convincing soundtrack of noises, we are transported to a world of cruelty and deprivation. We meet different people, who approach the reality of their situation in different ways. We see them in conflict; we see them in solidarity; we see them at their noblest and basest. Shourd, who has spent years fighting solitary confinement ever since her release from Iranian prison, based the play not only on authentic dialogue, but also on genuine proceedings in solitary (the play takes the trouble of taking us through the routine of getting people out for visitation, including the wait time of the visitor.)

The play is also a reminder of the importance of solidarity and interracial unification. It includes a brief and stylized version of the two Pelican Bay hunger strikes, complete with the court order to force feed the inmates that ended the second one. I highly recommend this unforgettable experience to anyone, especially those who have not yet become embroiled in the struggle to end solitary confinement in California.

The Box plays at Z Space until the end of the month. For tickets, click here.

On the Ballot: CA Propositions on Criminal Justice, November 2016

It’s pretty early to start talking about these, n’est ces pas? But it’s not too early to start thinking about the November election as an opportunity for positive change. Here is a roster of the statewide propositions addressing criminal justice issues, with some initial thoughts. We will take each in turn in the coming weeks.

YES on 57: Civil and Criminal Trials

This is the Jerry Brown proposition, which essentially does two things: takes the authority to file charges against juveniles out of the hands of prosecutors and places it back in the hands of judges (this bit is a no-brainer. OF COURSE it’s a good idea) and offers incarcerated folks the opportunity to earn more good credits on their path to release, resuscitating some version of parole for non-lifers. As to the latter part, the devil’s in the details, but even at its worst, it won’t make people’s sentences worse than they are now. There’s nothing to lose by saying yes, and moreover, any day someone with a proven rehabilitation record spends outside, working, paying taxes, and quietly living his/her life, is not a day you pay taxes to house him/her.

YES on 62: Death Penalty Repeal

We came close in 2012, and this is our chance to finally join the industrialized Western world and get rid of a punishment that does not serve us well. If you’re philosophically inclined, ask yourself what you think about state-sanctioned killings. If you dislike miscarriages of justice, ask yourself how comfortable you are with executing innocent people. If you feel the system is racially biased, here’s one classic setting where that is abundantly clear. And if none of these things matter to you, perhaps, like me, you think that $150 million a year is a pretty extreme expenditure for keeping 750 old and sick folks in a dilapidated facility, paying for their endless appeals and habeas, and letting them, for the most part, die of natural causes. Remember: you are not voting about the philosophical appeal of a theoretical death penalty, but rather about the ridiculously expensive, ineffectual, and non-deterrent process we have now in place. Let’s say goodbye to this archaic festival of waste and punitivism once and for all.

YES on 64: Marijuana

This legalization proposition is a considerable improvement over its 2010 predecessor. That one was imperfect, and as you recall, I recommended a “yes” despite of its imperfections, because whatever we do, we can’t go on doing what we’re doing now. Arrests, trials, and convictions, have not impacted the marijuana market at all. Taxation and regulation might–if we do a clever job at setting price points and the appropriate sales tax. Two things have changed since 2010 that make this one a stronger pitch for you: the feds have fairly consistently stayed out of the business of states that legalized recreational marijuana, and we have the experience of five states who legalized and the sky didn’t fall down. There are some complicated implications that this proposition might have on marijuana use rates, and we will discuss them in the weeks to come–as well as the reasons why this is of no particular concern in California.

NO on 66: Death Penalty Reform

This is the District Attorneys’ Association’s horrible response to 62, which consists of something similar to what happened in Florida a few years ago. The idea is that the death penalty is, indeed, broken, but that it can be reformed, and by taking away important constitutional protections, and “streamlining” (read: removing) options for post-conviction relief we can “cure” the delays in its administration and save a bit. This is only a good option if you are indifferent to the risk of executing innocent people or don’t care much for state misconduct, which is sure to result from it–it might be cheaper, but also considerably more cruel and stupid. If you feel that the death penalty is too costly or cumbersome, let’s get rid of it altogether, rather than serve a barbaric version of it with a side order of miscarriage of justice. NO NO NO.

Melty Cheddar and Mozzarella

I’m super happy to report that the two cheeses I made–the cheddar and the mozzarella–came out delicious. The recipes are both from Miyoko Schinner’s The Homemade Vegan Pantry, which is an excellent book to have at home, and which is the source of my almond yogurt and almond feta recipes as well. The cheeses are great on bread (I served them for breakfast to a meat-eating guest and he dug them), and they also respond very well to cooking: we used the cheddar as gnocchi sauce and the mozzarella in little pizzetas.

The process for making these cheeses is almost identical; the only difference is a slight tweak in ingredients.

Step 1: Create Culturing Liquid

For either the cheddar or the mozz, you’ll need one cup of culturing liquid. For my feta, I used juice from sauerkraut, which was a nice time saver; this time, I decided to go all DIY and made my own rejuvelac. This is not a bad idea, seeing as it keeps in the fridge for 3-4 weeks, and also as it produces sprouted quinoa, which you can then use to bake this delightful little roll. Follow the instructions in the previous post to produce the sprouted grains and the rejuvelac; strain the grains out to use in the sprouted bread recipe; and measure one cup of the rejuvelac for use in the cheese.

Step 2: Mix and Culture

Blend into a smooth consistency:
1 cup cashews
1 cup rejuvelac/sauerkraut liquid
1 tsp seasalt
nutritional yeast (1 tbsp for mozz, 3 tbsp for cheddar)
light-colored miso (1 tbsp for mozz, 2 tbsp for cheddar)
an optional tbsp of dried onion for the mozz

Pour into a lidded container, place somewhere away from direct sunlight but in room temperature, and wait a day or two.

The mix is ready for the next step when you notice that it’s become a bit soufflé-like: puffy, risen, full of air pockets, thicker.

Step 3: Harden

For this you’ll need:
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp water
1 tbsp agar flakes
2 tbsp tapioca starch

Place 1/2 cup water and agar flakes in a lidded pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Keep lid on for about 3-4 minutes. Then, check to see whether the agar has liquified and is bubbling away. It’s important to wait a few minutes for this to happen. Once the agar has bubbled away, incorporate your cultured cheese mix into the pot and whisk to perfection. As this cooks a bit, mix the tapioca starch with 2 tbsp water until dissolved and add to the pot. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens some and becomes shiny and stretchy.

Pour cheese into container (I simply rinse the culturing container and use that; Miyoko recommends using glass) and let harden in the fridge for at least four hours before consuming.

Sprouted Quinoa Bread

This delightful roll is basically a by-product of making rejuvelac, which is an essential ingredient in cultured cheeses (will post about those soon). Rejuvelac is the leftover liquid from sprouted grains. This roll is a great way to make use of the grains. It’s so tasty that it might actually be worthwhile to sprout the grains even if you don’t have lofty cheese plans!

Ingredients for one roll (easy to double, triple, or quadruple the recipe):

1/2 cup quinoa
big jug/jar of water
optional: grated coconut, sunflower seeds, nuts, raisins, olives, rosemary, or anything you’d want inside bread

Measure and place quinoa in big jar and fill with water. Using a strainer to help you, change the water three times every 12 hours. When the quinoa grains develop visible tails, fill with clean water, place lid or other cover on jar and leave on counter for about two days.

Carefully strain the liquid (use it for making nut cheese). Place the sprouted quinoa in food processor and process until smooth. If desire, mix with the suggested additions (I did coconut and sunflower seeds and it came out amazing.) Spoon out the quinoa onto a lightly floured baking sheet and form a round little roll, or a loaf, or whatever. Place in oven, bake at 350 degrees (no need to preheat) for 30 mins, then at 325 for about 20 mins more (this phase might be longer if you’re making a bigger loaf.)

Kelp Noodle Salad

Kelp noodles are so nice to work with! I’ve posted a couple of recipes that include them here and here, but I think this salad is really wonderful. It’s a really nice dinner on a hot day–light and zesty.

1 package kelp noodles
1 large carrot
2 large zucchini
1 package collard greens
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp white wine/whiskey
3 tbsp soy sauce or liquid aminos
1 tbsp salsa
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
1/2 package extra-firm tofu
2 tbsp raw tahini

There are three steps here, and each of them could produce a separate dish.

Collard Greens

Chop coarsely and sauté in olive oil. When soft, add booze and lemon juice and sauté for another couple of minutes.

Baked Tofu

Heat up the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Make the marinade with salsa, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and some water, make cubes out of the tofu, and let them rest in the marinade for half an hour. Then, bake the tofus. Save the marinade.

Assembling the salad

Get kelp noodles out of package and wash with water. Place in big salad bowl. Thinly slice or spiralize carrots and zucchini, and add. Mix tahini with marinade to produce a dressing, pour over noodles and veg and stir well. Add collard greens and tofu cubes and stir again, until just combined. Serve at room temperature.

Tofu Halloumi

The success of the feta and my tried-and-true tofu cream “uncheese” made me want to try and recreate another cheese favorite – halloumi, the gummy, salty cheese you can bake or grill to perfection. Turns out someone has already thought about this – the awesome Nada from One Arab Vegan has a great recipe! I made a few modifications to prepare it as follows:

Half a block of extra firm tofu–Hodo Soy extra-firm has the perfect consistency for this dish. It’s firm and springy, just like the cheese, and requires very little squeezing.
1-2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 tsp of sea salt (halloumi is a fairly salty cheese, but we found it a bit too salty for our taste, though after grilling it the flavors worked really well)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp dried oregano (Nada’s original recipe calls for dried mint, which would’ve been preferable, but oregano was a tasty substitute)
1/2 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Press the tofu (though not essential for Hodo Soy). Mix up all other ingredients in a little bowl into a thick, pasty marinade. Slice tofu to 1/8-1/4 inch slices. Layer the slices in a shallow dish and rub the marinade on both sides of each slice. Leave for 20 mins to absorb the flavors.

Nada uses a waffle iron to cook them, but I don’t have one. Fortunately, years ago, before I knew anything about cooking, my mom gifted me this amazing grilling pan, and I suspect any pan or griddle will do. Grill the slices for about 5 mins on each side, and you’re good to go.

Another idea I had was to do cubes in lieu of slices and put them on mediterranean-style skewers with mushrooms and tomatoes. I’ll do that for my next bbq party!