Not Exactly From Scratch Vegan Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Our story begins with a sniffly child in need of comfort (not the plague! We tested) and a mom sprouting a migraine halo. This situation led to us deciding on a low-key movie evening, and the child asked for mac ‘n’ cheese. Not having in me to cook, I called our trusty food deliverance app and ordered the famous vegan mac from Homeroom. We were foiled, however, as it took them about an hour to find a delivery driver, and the child’s need for comfort was growing more urgent and weepy by the moment.

Rather than spend precious minutes listening to muzak on customer support, I took matters into my own hands. We had all kinds of awesome dairy alternatives in the fridge, so I improvised, and used Banza in lieu of semolina pasta to bring some nutrition (protein, fiber) into the situation. It turned out pretty good, if I may say so, and we immediately tucked in. A few minutes later, a delightful and very apologetic delivery driver showed up with the restaurant version. Rio ruled Ima’s version better than the restaurant’s (and I trust him, as I don’t think he has already learned to lie for social convenience)! Upon Chad’s return home, I administered a blind tasting test to Chad and he, too, declared my version superior to Homeroom’s, which is high praise.

Chad opining on the relative virtues of the two dishes

To make a long story short, if you find yourself in dire straits, have some Miyoko’s products lying around, and want to be your own hero, here’s how I did it:

Ingredients

  • 1 package Banza pasta
  • 1 tsp Miyoko’s cultured butter
  • 2-3 tbsp Miyoko’s liquid mozzarella
  • 1/3 cup Ripple plant milk – unsweetened
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

salt, pepper, onion flakes, and garlic powder to taste

Cook Banza pasta according to instructions–get it somewhere between al dente and al denture (it’s children comfort food, not an effort to evoke a Tuscan gourmet experience.) Strain and immediately return to the pot. Add all other ingredients, mix well, and cook a bit on low heat until the fake dairy thickens and becomes gooey and delicious. Taste to fix the spices and flavors (you might need a smidgeon more salt and pepper) and serve.

I bet smoked paprika, some turmeric, and a few extra nutritional yeast flakes would make this yellower and tastier, but the child prefers his comfort dishes bland. You, of course, are free of such constraints, so enjoy!

Cauliflower Kitchari

Now that the semester has ended on both sides of the Bay Bridge, I have some time to cook delicious things, rather than eating on the fly as I ride my bike and BART. I even cracked open a great cookbook–Oz Telem’s Cauliflower–and branched beyond my usual fare of whole roasted cauli, or cauli/olive/chickpea salad, to making this satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs upgrade to cauli rice. It’s an aromatic concoction of riced cauli and yellow or red lentils with some spices.

Ingredients

2-3 cups cauliflower florets

1 cup yellow or red lentils, preferably whole

1 scant tsp turmeric

1.5 cups water

1-2 tsp salt (I used truffle salt to great effect)

3-4 tbsp olive oil

6-7 garlic cloves

1 heaping tsp cumin

Place florets in food processor and process until it has couscous consistency. Transfer to a medium pot along with the lentils, turmeric, and water. Bring to a boil, add the salt, cover, and lower the heat to a simmer. Let simmer approx. 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils and cauli are soft but not mushy.

Toward the end, heat olive oil in a pan. Thinly slice and add garlic cloves and cumin. Fry until golden. Add contents of the pan to the pot and mix well. Serve with a nice vegetable stew (pictured) or with coconut yogurt (I like Cocojune.)

By the way, we’ve had to find a new produce delivery service, and in an effort to prevent food waste we now get our fruit and veg from Imperfect Foods. This recipe came about because they brought us lots of wonderful cauliflower! In addition to the lovely produce, they have an impressive array of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, many of which we’ve never tried before, and we’re very happy with them so far.

Fonio

The other day I very much enjoyed watching two marvelous animated films on Criterion Channel: Kirikou and the Sorceress and Kirikou and the Men and Women. Both films are magical, artistic, deep creations, and I found them engaging and captivating. They involve a tiny boy, Kirikou, and his courageous fight against a sorceress and her fetishes on behalf of his people–even as said people are not always as gracious about his efforts as they should be. Highly recommended!

I mention this because, at some point in the second film, one of the village women comes to stay at Kirikou’s house. Kirikou’s mother invites her in, saying:

This caught my attention. Fonio? What is it? I had never heard of it, so my eyes were glued to the screen to see what it would look like. And here it was:

This looked exactly like something I would very much enjoy eating, so I quickly looked it up. Fonio turns out to be a West African grain, gluten-free and rich in protein and nutrients. It cooks very quickly and can be used similarly to quinoa, couscous, or rice. A restaurateur in Harlem wants to uplift Fonio and make it an exciting new grain option for Western palates, noting that, by contrast to quinoa (where the Western demand removed it from Andean tables), Fonio had been rejected as a food staple for quite a while in West Africa on behalf of Western options.

This is quite sad, because fonio is not only healthy, but delicious! I ordered a bag on Amazon; it’s quite economical, as in cooking it expands considerably. The fonio-to-water cooking ratio is 1:2, and you can add a teaspoon of oil and a little bit of salt (though it’s not really necessary, in our experience.) It comes out fluffy, kind of like couscous or quinoa, and has a very flavorful, nutty taste. I can see serving it with a variety of vegetable stews and learning more about West African cuisine. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Veggie Sushi

I was going to write a post about the latest Plata hearing, vaccines, and the sad stories that the Davis Vanguard has been uncovering (great journalistic job, guys!) but my heart is heavy, so we rallied our spirits by having family sushi-making night. I only wish we could share the tray with everyone we are in communication with, including families, currently incarcerated folks, formerly incarcerated folks, frontline health workers… after all ***this*** (insert expansive hand motion here) is over, perhaps we can all get together as a community for a potluck?

In the meantime, I’m extending all of you an invitation to our upcoming symposium about mass incarceration and the COVID-19 crisis. Attendance is free, but you do have to register to participate. And hey, we give MCLE credits!

Re the sushi: it’s pretty easy if you have the right ingredients on hand. Here’s what I use:

  • 2 cups Sukoyaka Genmai (the best gently milled brown rice, which the wonderful Tanaka Sensei introduced our family to)
  • 4 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp vegan furikake (we have some but you can make your own)
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 carrot
  • 3-inch cube of butternut squash
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/4 block of Hodo Soy tofu
  • 1 package nori sheets
  • sushi rolling mats
  • saran wrap

Cook rice in instant pot or rice cooker. Get out of cooker, let cool to room temperature, then mix with mirin and furikake.

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While rice is cooking, slice vegetables into very thin matchsticks. The butternut squash can be cut thinly and then baked until soft.

Place a bowl with tap water near the rice, veg, and sushi mat. Cover the sushi mat with a piece of saran wrap, then put a nori sheet on top. Moisten you hands in the water bowl; take a few big spoonfuls of rice and layer them, patting them down on the nori (1/4-inch thickness) and leaving about 2 inches at the end. Then, toward the beginning, place the vegetable sticks of your choice.

There are lots of tutorials on how to roll sushi–anyone will do. The lesson I learned was not to overfill. Use some water on a fingertip to seal.

Take your best knife, moisten it with tap water, and resolutely slice up the roll into little maki sushi (each about an inch long.) Sprinkle furikake or black sesame if desired. Enjoy!

Kuku Sabzi

In my continuing mission to introduce more greens into my breakfasts (previous attempts included lots of smoothie bowls) I came up with a wonderful solution that can be made ahead and provide convenient, protein- and nutrient-rich breakfasts for the whole week. Kuku Sabzi is a Persian dish of dense greens and herbs bound with egg. My version substitutes the egg with chickpea flour, plant milk, and olive oil, and incorporates lots of herbs and spices. You can make lots of variations, depending on the greens you have on hand. This version uses Stonehouse spice mixes, which I find incredibly useful.

  • 8 big collard leaves
  • 8 big kale leaves
  • 100g or so of spinach or baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened plant milk
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 heaping tbsp OMG (or your own combination of onion powder, garlic powder, and salt)
  • 1 heaping tbsp Aglio Olio (or your own Italian seasoning)

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Lightly oil a shallow, rectangular baking dish (I use this 9”x12” one, but anything will do) and line with parchment (don’t forget the parchment–this will pay off dividends at the end.)

Remove the stems from the collards and kale and tear into pieces. Place all the greens and herbs in your food processor and chop into tiny pieces–you may need to do this in batches.

Place all the chopped greens in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the chickpea flour, plant milk, olive oil, and spices, into an eggy-textured mixture. Transfer the mixture into the bowl with the greens and mix well with your hands, until the mixture binds the greens together. Then, transfer the lot into the baking dish. Using damp hands, push the mixture into the bottom of the dish, until it is very dense and covers the whole dish. Flatten the top.

Bake for about 45 mins, or until the kuku has solidified. Remove from oven, lift using the parchment, and gently place on a cooling rack. After it cools a bit, you can cut it into squares, triangles, or any other shape, and store in the fridge. This is delicious when eaten cold, straight from the fridge, or dipped into this fabulous dressing.

Vegan Sabih

Sabih, the sensational eggplant/egg/tahini/amba sandwich, is a mainstay in Israel, and there’s even a place that serves it in Oakland. It’s easy to make at home whenever you like if you have the main ingredients on hand. Here’s a vegan version:

  • 2 pitot (we make our own sourdough pitot, recipe some other time)
  • 1 eggplant
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • salt
  • 1/2 package firm or medium-firm tofu
  • 1 tsp kala namak salt
  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour
  • 1 tbsp plant milk
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp amba powder
  • 2 tbsp raw tahini
  • juice from 2 lemons
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, green onions, parsley, thinly sliced

Heat up the oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds. Place on silicone baking sheet and top with minced garlic and salt.

Slice the tofu into very thin slices. Make a mixture out of the kala namak, chickpea flour, plant milk, and turmeric. Coat each tofu slice in the mixture on both sides. Place on silicone baking sheet alongside the eggplant. Bake for about 20 minutes.

While the eggplant and tofu are baking, mix the amba powder with some boiling water to make a bit of amba. Mix the tahini with lemon juice and garlic to make a bit of tahini. Slice all veg and herbs thinly.

Halve the pitot and toast them (if you like). Smear tahini and amba inside each pocket. Pack the pita full of tofu, eggplant, and vegetables. Serve alongside a nice salad with some mint tea.

Grilled Eggplants Stuffed with Impossible Meat and Pomegranate

For today’s Christmas Eve brunch, we made a version of Oz Telem’s new recipe. I think ours benefits from the fact that the eggplants were grilled, and from some little tweaks to the recipe. Because I grew up not far from where Jesus spent his childhood, I imagine he had lots of fresh grilled vegetables (not eggplant, though) but he and his family probably ate lots of fish rather than vegan meats. We used Impossible meat, but you could use Beyond Beef as well.

  • Two medium-sized lightweight eggplants
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp baharat
  • 1/2 package Impossible/Beyond ground
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 large pomegranate
  • parsley for garnish

Fire up the grill. Gently peel the eggplants in a zebra pattern – removing lengthwise stripes of peel, but keeping some stripes on, so that the eggplant retains its shape. Place on the grill and grill for about 15 mins, taking care to char on all sides.

While the eggplant is grilling, cut the pomegranate in half; juice one half and extract the seeds from the other half (save those for later). Heat up the olive oil in a pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent. After 2-3 minutes, add the garlic and pine nuts. Cook for about 30 seconds. Then, add the Impossible/Beyond, the pomegranate juice, and the baharat. Sauté until the ground feels cooked and the spices are incorporated throughout (about 4-5 mins.)

Make a slit in each eggplant and stuff each one with half of the Impossible/Beyond mixture (it’ll be easy to fill, because the insides of the eggplant should be already fairly mushy.) Cook for another 10 mins or so on the grill, until the flavors incorporate. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds and parsley on top and serve with tchina (“tahini”) and other grilled vegetables. Happy Holidays!

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The blog has been an effort to integrate works of compassion from three areas of my life–compassionate work, compassionate mindfulness, and compassionate cooking–so I hope the occasional recipe/mindfulness practice is not too surprising to the many folks reading here because of the COVID-19 crisis in prisons. We are thinking of those of you behind bars, and of those of you missing your incarcerated loved ones, and we hope you will soon get to cook and break bread together on the outside.

Einkorn Tortellini and Ravioli

About a year ago, my colleagues Dario Melossi and Máximo Sozzo invited me to an academic workshop in Bologna, and I had a fantastic time! We talked about the political economy of punishment and, in the evenings, I took in art films in Piazza Maggiore, the historical town square, enjoyed a superb opera mini-production at the Basilica di San Petronio, perused the wonderful bookstores, and enjoyed the phenomenal university museums (I have especially vivid memories from this terrific exhibit about the colonization of African art.) And, of course, we ate a lot, because Bologna is as much a food town as it is a university town. One of the restaurants near my hotel bore the sign “sempre aperto,” which seemed apt for the entire city–fresh pasta available at any moment. The tortellini, a city specialty, were especially wonderful, though it was quite a challenge to find vegan pasta! I had the good fortune to take two wonderful pasta-making workshops, one with hilarious and energetic restaurateur Antonio and the other with cosmopolitan and compassionate Sara, and could not wait to get home and veganize the recipes.

This took a bit longer than expected, because of kid and job, but today I decided to finally do it. These are not 100% faithful to the traditional recipe. For one thing, they are vegan (the traditional recipe is 100g flour per 1 egg); for another, the fillings are my versions for the tasty treats I ate there. And, importantly, I did not use the recommended “tipo 00” pastry flour, but whole grain einkorn flour.

Forget what you know about horribly-textured whole-wheat pasta; einkorn works wonderfully in this recipe. The flour came from Bluebird Grain Farms. I picked it because it had low gluten content, and therefore would be better in this sort of recipe than as a standalone in a sourdough loaf (I’ll mix it with something more gluten-filled, like rye or bread flour, when I make a loaf.) It turned out fantastic–nutty, complex flavors, fresh and delicious fillings, and lots of leftovers that freeze well. I made two versions – it’s a little more difficult to make the tortellini, but you pick up dexterity as you go along.

I made these as a nice vehicle for the new shiitake mushrooms that are popping out of my mini-farm. I’m growing four different kinds of edible mushrooms in our downstairs bathroom from kits by Far West Fungi and it’s one of the most enjoyable homegrown food projects I’ve done. We’re fascinated by the process and the mushrooms are incredibly fresh and flavorful. This is not a quick thing to make, but it’s very gratifying. Be your own hero and give it a try!

Dough

  • 300g whole einkorn flour
  • 150g water
  • 2 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Place flour and salt in a large bowl; shape a hill and make a well in the middle. Drizzle the water and olive oil in the middle, gradually pinching in more and more of the flour. When the dry and wet ingredients are mixed, knead for about five minutes. You’ll have a beautiful, smooth, pliable and stretchy ball of dough. Wrap in foil, or in an eco bag, and place in fridge for at least half an hour.

Filling 1: Shiitakes

  • 3 cups fresh mushrooms–I used shiitake
  • 1/4 white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp mushroom powder (Trader Joe’s makes a nice product–any brand would do, or you can omit this entirely)
  • 1/2 tsp truffle salt
  • 2 tbsp Miyoko’s cream cheese (plain) or other nut cheese

Place mushrooms, onion, and garlic in a food processor bowl and process to break into little bits. Heat up olive oil in a pan and add the processed mushroom mixture. Add mushroom powder and truffle salt. Sauté for about 5-7 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked and the whole thing tastes wonderful. Transfer to mixing bowl and refrigerate. Once it cools, mix with cream cheese.

Filling 2: Kale

  • 1 package (approx. 10 large leaves) kale
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp Bitchin’ Sauce or other spicy nut cheese

Remove kale stems and place leaves in food processor bowl. Process to break into tiny bits. Heat up olive oil and sauté garlic for 30 seconds. Add the kale and sauté for 5-7 mins, until soft. Transfer to mixing bowl and refrigerate. Once it cools, mix with Bitchin’ Sauce or any nut cheese you like. If you only have plain, you can season it to taste.

Assembly

Get dough ball out of the fridge and prepare a large floured surface and a roller pin. Divide ball into two halves. Roll one half very thin and slice into 2 1/2-inch squares. Gently spoon about 1/2 tsp of shiitake filling in the middle, fold diagonally into a triangle and press ends. Now, wrap the two bottom corners of the triangle around your finger, like a ring, and press together. That’s the traditional tortellini shape. Keep going until you’re out of dough/filling.

Now, roll the other half of the dough very thin and, with a regular-sized mason jar, cut circles. Gently spoon 1/2 tsp of kale filling in the middle, fold down the middle into a half circle, press the circumference, and gently press in a fork to create cute ridges. Refrigerate (or freeze).

Cooking

Boil water in a middle-sized pot. When water reaches a rolling boil, gently place pasta in the water. Allow to cook 3-4 minutes or until the pasta floats, then remove with a slotted spoon. Serve with a light cashew cream sauce, Bitchin’ Sauce, or just olive oil and garlic.

Collard Greens with Tofu

This recipe is a very liberal adaptation of several recipes in Richa Hingle’s wonderful Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen. I’m serving it with quinoa and with a thickened version of this curried daal.

  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch knob ginger, minced
  • 12 oz. package of firm tofu (no need to squeeze the water), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large, ripe tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 enormous bunch of collards, de-stemmed and sliced into thin ribbons
  • 1/4 cup water

Heat up oil in heavy pan. When hot, add cumin and coriander seeds and toast for 30 seconds. Add garlic and ginger and toast for another 30 seconds. Add sliced tomato and tofu cubes and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add collard ribbons and water, cover, and reduce heat. Continue to cook for about 15 minutes, or until collards are soft to your taste.

Vegetables Korma

More pandemic cooking, and this time we’re flush with fresh produce because our friends at Albert & Eve came by yesterday with two bags full. We’ve been enjoying learning Indian cooking from Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen, and this time we made cauliflower, carrots and peas korma. I made a few adjustments to Richa’s excellent recipe to make it mild so that Rio would eat it. Big success!

As an aside, Richa’s terrific book is one of the two cookbooks we use most at home, the other one being Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli. We have lots of great cookbooks, the vast majority of which are vegan, but at this point we have our kitchen style and recipes pretty much mastered, so we need cookbooks only to learn things we don’t know yet.

The recipe in the book is very much like this one from Richa’s website, but with a few important changes, and I made a few additional simplifications. I substituted the fennel seeds with poppy seeds to great success, omitted the chiles, and had carrots in lieu of potatoes. We were lucky that fresh peas are in season, but wanted lots of peas so defrosted a frozen pea bag. I made a few other tweaks to fit the pandemic pantry situation, and there ya have it:

Sauce:

  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds

Veggies:

  • 3 cups cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 cup peas (frozen is great)
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup water

Heat up oil in big pan, slice onion thinly, add to pan with coriander and cumin, and sauté until golden. Finely mince garlic and ginger and add. Sauté for about 5 more minutes, then add tomatoes, and cook an additional five minutes. Then, add poppy seeds and cook for another 2 mins. Add cauliflower and carrots and mix. Add coconut milk and water, cover, and cook on medium-low heat for 15 mins. Add peas, mix again, and cook for another 15 mins. Great over rice!