What do you cook when you’ve been up til 11:00 pm three nights in a row banging out catering orders?
Now is a good time to use up whatever leftover veggies you have in your fridge, plus that half-bag of quinoa and tiny bit of dried lentils your kids push out of the way when they’re looking for snacks in the cabinet!
I totally improvised this one, but it came out great and is loaded with protein and fiber – probably will provide me with a full week’s worth of lunches at my day job. I just used what I had; you use whatever odds and ends are in your fridge crisper – the important thing is the cooking time so the lentils and quinoa (which cook rather quickly) absorb all the rice.
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1/2 cup green lentils or split peas
4 cups bullion
1 carrot, diced
1 summer squash, diced
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 can black beans
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ghost pepper powder (or just use cayenne, if you can’t take the heat)
dash dried cilantro
2 dashes cumin
And away we go. Sauté the carrots, squash and jalapenos in the olive oil; add garlic powder. When they begin to soften, add quinoa and lentils; stir and add bullion. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat; add corn, and simmer, covered for 20-25 minutes. Add slightly more water if lentils are not fully softened; return to simmer.
Add drained and rinsed black beans with a few packets taco sauce from the Packet Drawer. When ready to serve, fold in a few tablespoons sriracha, and enjoy!
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On Sunday morning, I posted a picture on Instagram of a spinach pie I was making for a customer’s delivery that day, and several people asked me for the recipe (I garnered 5 more catering customers, just from that one picture!) I am happy to provide a good recipe, along with step-by-step instructions on how to make “вит баница” (wrapped spinach pie).
That’s just the kinda gal I am….I share my recipes! Am I concerned about losing potential or existing customers? Heck, no. I know well and good that most of you are too busy living life (or just plain too intimidated by phyllo dough) to attempt this; ergo, you place orders with me. But should you ever decide to DIY, here you go – with my heartfelt blessings.
The first thing you need to do is get yourself down to Bahnan’s international store on Pleasant Street in Worcester, or any other Mediterranean market of your choice. Get a pound of the domestic feta (about $3.50; great for cooking); a box of phyllo dough; and a quart of Bulgarian whole-milk yogurt (it’s tangier, but honestly any plain yogurt will work fine for this dish).
Here’s the full ingredient list:
3 cups plain yogurt
1 box phyllo dough
1 lb. domestic feta cheese
1 bag frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 T. flour
1/2 tsp. bakiing soda
1 stick butter, melted
Now that you have all that assembled, hopefully you have a round, 17″ baking pan (“tava”). If you don’t, don’t freak out – we’ll use our critical thinking skills and improvise here! Grab a lasagna pan or whatever you have; when we roll up the “phyllo logs” instead of spiraling them, we’ll lay them down side-by-side. That’s perfectly acceptable and won’t hurt the taste at all.
Now. Start by crumbling up that nice 1 lb. block of feta cheese – just smoosh the life out of it into a mixing bowl. Add eggs, yogurt, baking soda and flour. Get out your electric mixer and go to town on it.
Drain your frozen spinach in a colander and press out extra liquid; add to mix and blend well.
Get out your pastry brush, cuz you’re gonna need it. Melt the stick of butter in the microwave; open roll of phyllo carefully, spread out on clean worksurface. Spread o few tablespoons of filling across top quarter of phyllo leaf; very carefully roll up and coil; place in center of pan. Phyllo tears very easily; you can use two leaves at a time if necessary.
Repeat process with next leaf; roll up and pace around center “coil”. Continue until all phyllo/mix is used up. Brush top liberally with melted butter (this is not a low-cal nor low-fat dish; don’t worry…..just have a piece or two and you’ll be fine). When it’s dripping with melted butter, put in a 375-degree for an hour (top will appear more baked than bottom; don’t freak, it’s cool).
NOW. Important point to note. Working with phyllo dough CAN be tricky; and especially if you are a newbie, you might get frustrated with it tearing when you are trying to roll it up with the filling. That’s ok! Use very little filling per phyllo sheet, and also be cognizant of the fact that it’s probably not your fault. Many times, when you open a pouch of phyllo sheets, one edge will be sticking together – like it sat in the grocer’s freezer for too long, and it’s hard to detach. That happens; try not to get too pissed off, like I do.
An easier way to make a perfectly good banitsa/spinach pie is to layer it, like a lasagna, and cut it into squares when it’s baked. Brush the bottom of pan with butter, place a couple of phyllo leaves on bottom; a half cup or so of the feta/spinach mix; and cover with another couple phyllo leaves. Repeat until mixture and phyllo leaves are gone; brush top layer of phyllo generously with butter. Bake for 1 hour; cool and cut.
You now have a very nice pan-style banitsa (or burek for my Albanian and Macedonian friends; spanakopita for Greeks; otherwise, it’s just a spinach and cheese pie, by any other name!). Enjoy!
Hello and welcome back, fellow food bloggers, plant-based peeps, vegans, omnivores and random strangers!
In this exciting edition, I’d like to talk about a few plant-based products that I never appreciated (or perhaps gave a fair chance) before adopting a plant-based lifestyle, and venturing out into the fun new world of making vegetarian meal creations! Trial and error is par for the course, and one can discover a lot of new items (and cooking preparations) along the way. I never have a problem admitting when I am wrong….which hopefully isn’t too often…but I’ve been wrong about a couple of plant-based delicacies.
My Tofu Hang-up
To be honest, tofu has always skeeved me out. It’s….quivery; and when I tried it cooked, it tasted like a bland sponge. The Thai restaurant where I waitressed in college used fried tofu cubes in its vegetarian entrees – fried ahead, then tossed into the dish. The result? The texture was that of a greasy paper bag, which somehow managed to be dry at the same time. Zero taste; nasty texture; extra oil – why bother?
My second experience with tofu came during a vegetarian phase post-grad, and was even more traumatic. It involved a package of “tofu pups” (hotdogs) from the produce section, which when cooked smelled like sweaty feet and tasted worse. I couldn’t even finish the package.
Fast-forward 28 years later….I recently bought some firm tofu, some of which I fried up for myself. Result? Meh. Bland. Waste of calories. Having some left in the package, I cubed and tossed it into a pork and veggie stir-fry I made for the kids and me…..and noticed them all politely pushing the tofu bits to the side of their plates. “You didn’t care for the tofu?” I asked my sweet son Stefan. “Well…I’m not really a tofu guy,” he admitted, in his usual tactful way. “That’s ok,” I responded cheerfully. “You know my philosophy – try everything once; and if you don’t like it, don’t try it again.”
Well, intrigued by all the plant-based recipes singing the praises of tofu properly prepared, I decided to give it another go…..and discovered The Secret! Here it is: Marinade; marinade, marinade. THEN cook it (or don’t; tofu is fermented from soybeans and ready to eat), and the flavor is phenomenal when marinated. This week, I bought soft tofu (the most quivery kind), sliced and marinated it in a ginger sesame vinaigrette, and WOW! My new addiction. I’ve been putting it over salads and in wraps with greens.
Soft tofu is typically used as a ricotta or dairy substitute, like in smoothies. My guess is that it would be harder to cook than firm (or extra-firm) tofu, which most cooked recipes/stir fries seem to call for. When cooking tofu, you should press it first to rid it of extra liquid (about half an hour), then marinade or coat in spices before cooking. There are different cooking methods with tofu – you can bake it in slices/pieces (as I did with this Tofu Tikka Masala); fry, or dry-fry by using a non-stick skillet or a bit of cooking spray (press with spatula and fry for several minutes on each side, until all water is evaporated). The possibilities are then endless.
A note about tofu – it tends to get a bad rap, because someone who didn’t understand chemistry (or the difference between hormonal estrogens and phytoestrogens) thought the soy raised estrogen levels and contributed to breast cancer in women; increased estrogen in men. Um, no. The Asians have been eating tofu for 5,000 years; have the highest birthrate in the world; highest life expectancy; and a very low percentage of breast cancer. Soy is fine; and is a complete protein.
The one thing I don’t like about tofu is when food manufacturers try to pretend it’s meat; and pretend it tastes like meat. It’s not and it doesn’t. The texture of soy based Chik’n et. al. is such that if real chicken had that texture, I’d politely spit it into my napkin when no one was looking. Same goes for those over-priced seitan meat substitutes in the produce section — I have tried them, and they are found wanting. The texture is rubbery and….weird. (See here for an explanation of the difference between tofu and seitan – the former is soy-protein based; the latter is made from vital wheat gluten).
So, in the final analysis, tofu in its natural state can be delicious – with the right marinade to give it flavor! Fake meat…..sorry, you still haven’t won me over. I do like tempeh, however, which has a nutty, grainy texture. It also benefits from a zippy marinade – otherwise the taste is vaguely reminiscent of cardboard.
Which brings me to my next wonderful, beautiful discovery….
Oh my goodness….where have you been all my life?!? As a life-long cheese lover, I expected that going plant-based would be most difficult in terms of cheese. However, from day one I was trying so many different varieties of veggies and grains that I never got any cravings. Usually cravings are your body’s way of telling you what nutrients you might be deficient in – if you’re eating a well-balanced diet, you shouldn’t have any major cravings. But let’s face it; cheese is good, right?
About 18 or so years ago, I tried soy cheese just for funsies. It was packaged like American cheese singles. It was….under-whelming. Not good. So I thought all vegan cheese is a monstrosity. Well, I’ll be the first to admit that plant-based dairy products have come a long way in the last two decades! A couple of years ago, we had a scare that my younger daughter might be allergic to dairy, so before the final test results were in, I rushed out and bought a bunch of dairy-free substitutes, including Daiya cheese slices (which are tapioca and pea-protein based; not soy). Unlike soy cheese of yore, it melted fine – tasted just like American cheese in grilled cheese sandwiches (if a lot more expensive). Nothing to write home about; but my kids didn’t even know the difference.
Last week, on a whim, I bought a small block of Daiya’s jalapeno Havarti – and suffice to say, my socks were knocked off! This stuff is as good as the best “real” cheese I’ve ever had (although at $4.69 for a 7-oz. block, a lot pricier than $2.99 for a pound of real cheddar).
My conclusion? Delicious, but like dairy cheese, probably not a food for every day (vegan cheese is just as high in fat as its dairy counterpart – but at least the carcinogenic carrageenan in dairy cheese is absent, as are the animal proteins). All things in moderation….I admit, that as delicious as this vegan cheese is (and I haven’t tried other brands), I’ll probably indulge my once-every-few-months cheese craving with regular dairy cheese. I’m on a budget, y’know!
What other plant-based discoveries have you made that pleasantly surprised you? Leave us some comments/tips or recipes in the comment section!
Hello and welcome back, cooking friends! Just a few new recipes to share, which I came up with out of an abundance of produce given to me….and a 1-lb. bag of black beans I swiped from my boyfriend’s shelf, knowing he would never have the motivation to cook them and do fantastic beany-things with them himself! It technically was only “borrowing”, as I’m going to bring him the chili, black bean and quinoa burgers and dip I made to enjoy.
He’s so lucky to have me. I tell ya’ll.
Anyway, first – what to do with a bunch of huge garden cucumbers? I am not set up to do proper canning/preserving of pickles, but a friend shared a recipe for refrigerator pickles which I adapted only slightly – reduced the amount of sugar by half (it’s still plenty sweet!) and used hot red pepper flakes and a dash of habanero sauce in place of celery seed and mustard seed.
Again, I omitted the brown sugar; went down to 3/4 cup of white sugar; no mustard or celery seed – lots of hot red pepper flakes. You do YOU, baby.
Combine cucumbers and salt in a large, shallow bowl; cover and chill 1½ hours. Move cucumbers into a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Drain well, and return cucumbers to bowl. Add onion to the bowl and toss with the cucumbers.
Combine the granulated sugar, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds and ground turmeric in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Pour the hot vinegar mixture over cucumber mixture; let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 month.
Back to the beans. I may have mentioned this a time or two before, but there is soooo much you can do with black beans. From soups and stews, to homemade veggie burgers; dips, salads, burritos — black beans are one of the most versatile and economical plant-based staples around.
Which is all theoretical, if you’re too lazy to cook them. *cough* Throw a pound into the Crockpot with enough water to cover them with an inch on top; set on low and go to bed. BAM! A huge yield (maybe 3 lbs.?) of black beans – recipe-ready.
Then, I opened up the Thug Cookbook for more inspiration….
While the chili was cooking, I took another 2 1/2 cups of the cooked beans to pulverize up with some cilantro, garlic, lime juice and onions to make Thug Kitchen’s Creamy Black Bean and Cilantro Dip. See picture of the recipe above – I followed it to the T – but one minor suggestion I’d make is omitting the water or broth. You want a thicker, dip-like consistency. Not quite so “soupy”.
Now that I’m all done with that, I still have about 2 cups of black beans left over. These are great for use in homemade wraps/burritos; salad; whatever.
Don’t know what will happen on our next episode….but enjoy; stay healthy; and keep cooking! 🙂
Well, I’m happy to say that today’s launch of “Good Food 4 You” – my new meal preparation and delivery service – went off without a hitch! My first client is a pregnant lady who works full-time and is weary of trying to come up with options for her gluten-free partner. She was so happy with my service, she has decided to become a recurring customer – placing larger orders weekly.
Mt day started at 6:30 am, with a cup of coffee. By 7:00 I was tenderizing the beef with baking soda, which is a trick I learned online to make beef in the $4.00 – $5.00 range suitable for stir-frys (Chinese restaurants do it all the time – Google “How to velvet beef”). Next, prep the veggies – I used broccoli, carrots, bok choy, bell peppers, and onions.
Because I am promising meals that serve 6-8 people, and I was using 3 lbs. of beef and more of vegetables, I had to stir-fry in stages. Because my client is gluten-free, I replaced the soy sauce in the dish with tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) and used cornstarch in place of flour in the sauce – which was ginger paste; minced garlic; soy sauce; water; and cornstarch for thickening).
After a pediatrician appointment with my son, I got right back to it – Crispy Goat Cheese Rounds were next in the agenda. Cut a log into 5 parts; mold with hands; dip in 2 beaten eggs;
dip in gluten-free Panko breadcrumbs;
back in egg; back in breadcrumbs. Freeze them for about 20 minutes; fry a few minutes each side in vegetable oil.
Now for the Orange Chicken – one of my signature dishes; and FAR better than Chinese takeout!
This one calls for dredging the chicken pieces in flour, but since my client is gluten-free, I substituted corn starch. First, the chunks of raw chicken hit the beaten egg. Then the cornstarch…..then the fryer. Because I was working with 3.5 lbs. of chicken breast, It went in stages – my assistant, the lovely and inimitable Natalia (my younger daughter) was helping me, it went in assembly-line fashion! They were then bathed in an orange sauce, made from orange juice (Natalia: “You use orange juice in Orange Chicken?!?” Me: “Yes….how do you think you get the orange taste?”)
Two quarts of rice in the rice cooker (seasoned with tamari; sesame oil; and scallions); and we were good to go. I’m happy to say that we had a very satisfied client, who promises to be a regular customer and wants to order higher quantity meals! So yay us on our first successful day.
Hello and welcome back to another fast-paced edition of Really Easy Stuff You Can Make in the Kitchen!
Today a kind neighbor blessed me with a 10-pound box of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and more tomatoes….so I made a quart of pico de gallo (did you know that literally means “peak of rooster” in Spanish? Not “beak”. “Peak”. I have no idea why…..those crazy Spaniards!). Straight from the garden, this is good stuff – you can either share with your neighbor; friends; significant other; parole officer…..or you can freeze it for those winter months when you get a nacho craving. Your choice!
This is similar to a salsa, but doesn’t have the tomato-saucy characteristic of jarred salsa – much more like the refrigerated (and much more expensive!) fresh salsa/pico de gallo from the refrigerated section. With tomatoes in season, this is a great use for them.
2 pounds fresh tomatoes (about 4 cups)
1 white onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic (or 2 T jarred minced garlic)
1-2 jalapenos, diced (I was all out, so I substituted half a green bell pepper)
3 T lime or lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. salt/Goya Adobo seasoning
1/2 cup black beans (optional – I just happened to have some in the fridge so I tossed ’em in there. Fresh corn kernels would also be a good addition).
2 DROPS Ghost Pepper sauce
WARNING: Do NOT mess around with Ghost Pepper sauce (or powder, or Carolina Reaper powder either, for that matter). This stuff is not Tabasco sauce or Frank’s Red Hot. No no no…..if you want to kick the heat up later, you can always add more; but once the fire is in there it cannot be taken out. You have been warned, so don’t go dumping half the bottle in there and then emailing me when you’re hospitalized with esophageal ulcers!
Now that we’ve got that settled, here’s all you do:
Blanch, peel, and finely chop tomatoes.
While water is boiling, dice your onion and pepper; add garlic, lime juice, garlic and seasonings. Mix all well.
Fold in cooked beans (if desired).
Fresh pico de gallo should last for up to a week in the fridge; can be canned or frozen for future use without horrible effects to the texture.
I honestly don’t know. Lots of Vitamin C and fiber; a smidge of protein; and zero fat. There is no oil in pico de gallo (just like there’s no crying in baseball). It simply doesn’t happen.
It’s also insanely low in sodium – unlike commercial salsas – there’s just a teaspoon in the whole quart. So, get yourself some good bean chips and enjoy all you want!
I’ve been updating my WF/PB menu offerings for my new venture – a customizable, meal preparation/delivery service specializing in vegetarian and vegan offerings (although I’m still happy to deliver up on a moussaka, homemade mac ‘n cheese, or whatever else the client wants), so here’s the latest! Another inspired curry…..and it was gooooood.
Massaman curry was served in a Thai restaurant where I waitressed back in college, during the last Ice Age. It’s mild; peanuty-flavored; usually folks order it with chicken or beef (but no meat needed) and has peanuts sprinkled on top. It is also made with potatoes, so your choice if you want it with rice or not. Quite good.
Since I had a bunch of white and sweet potatoes I was looking to use up (in this heat!) but running low on other veggies, I made this with onions, zucchini, and a can of Thai banana blossoms I bought last month at an awesome Indian store in Waltham and didn’t really know what to do with.
Here’s the low-down about banana blossoms.
I’m here to tell you the truth, and sometimes that is not what you’ll get from every plant-based aficionado around. Banana blossoms do not taste like meat. They do not have the texture of meat. Nor does jackfruit, which is a vegan favorite for “pulled pork”. Jackfruit has a texture of something like a cross between an eggplant and an artichoke; banana blossoms are similar, but closer to the artichoke side. The canned banana blossoms (which I coarsely chopped, to add into the curry) were exactly like unsalty/briny artichokes. In fact, they should just stop messing around and call them “Thai artichokes” to avoid confusion.
True story: I saw several recipes online for “Vegan fish ‘n Chips” substituting canned banana blossoms for the fish. No no no. Ah HELL no. Sorry, vegan friends, banana blossoms do not taste nor have the texture of anything like fish. IMHO, if you want the taste of fish, go eat some fish. But leave the canned banana blossoms for when you want to add something “artichokey” to your curry.
Now that we’re all clear on that….let’s get cooking. I had a bunch of potatoes (both sweet and white) I wanted to use up, so Massaman curry was the perfect solution! Using a can of curry paste and coconut milk, you don’t have to add extra ingredients (although you can if you want to – fresh ginger; garlic; red chilies; ghost pepper powder).
2 small sweet potatoes, unpeeled
4 small (or 3 medium) white potatoes, peeled
1 large onion
1 can brined young banana blossoms (optional – substitute vegetables of choice)
1 can (4 oz.) Massaman curry paste
1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 cup halved or chopped peanuts
Handful fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
Wash, cube and steam the sweet potatoes for 5 minutes; add cubed white potatoes to steamer. Make sure they are roughly equal size to cook evenly. Steam another 10-15 minutes; add onion in last 2 minutes of cooking.
Heat curry paste on medium heat in wok; whisk in coconut milk until no lumps. Add onion and (raw) zucchini to sauce. Simmer 10 minutes.
Add cooked potatoes; mix well, and continue simmering over low heat until cooked through.
Top with peanuts and cilantro; serve immediately.
That’s it! You have just made the world’s easiest plant-based massaman curry, which I invented tonight solely based on what I had in my fridge and pantry. If you are so inclined, stir-fry up some chicken breast before you add the curry paste, coconut milk and veggies – I won’t be offended; but you can make so much hearty deliciousness just from vegetable sources, why bother? Y’all’s choice.
Hello fellow fitness and plant-based fans! Yesterday, I attempted to make from-scratch veggie burgers, attempting to duplicate one I’d had in a Maine restaurant that featured sweet potato and beans. To put it bluntly, on attempt #1 I severely over-estimated my improvisational cooking skills and was left with a liquidy “burger base” that would not crisp up. It was “spoogy” (a word my boyfriend has asked me not to use), but when a batter stays liquidy and doesn’t become burger-y, I call that “spooge”.
To be honest, my disastrous first attempt tasted fine and of course we ate it anyway; but being far too stubborn to concede defeat, I sought out another actual tested-and-true recipe online. (When all else fails, read the directions)! Much, much better results.
This recipe is made with black beans, cooked quinoa, and uses an egg and breadcrumbs to hold it together. (I suppose if you’re one of those strict vegan-types, you could substitute some egg substitute, but I had eggs in the fridge so I just went for it).
This black bean burger is so good and so easy to make, you may never buy frozen ones again! (It may not look all that pretty, but it does hold together quite well in the skillet and the flavor is great).
Here you go…..
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained (I used 1 1/2 cup cooked dried beans – same difference)
1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup minced yellow bell pepper (I was out of peppers, so I used a diced carrot instead)
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Frank’s RedHot®)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender and the water has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Roughly mash the black beans with a fork leaving some whole black beans in a paste-like mixture.
Mix the quinoa, bread crumbs, bell pepper, onion, garlic, cumin, salt, hot pepper sauce, and egg into the black beans using your hands.
Form the black bean mixture into 5 patties.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.
Cook the patties in the hot oil until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
That’s all there is to it! Easy-peasy.
Per Serving: 245 calories; 10.6 g fat; 28.9 g carbohydrates; 9.3 g protein; 37 mg cholesterol; 679 mg sodium (much less if you use cooked, dried beans instead of canned, as I did).
Well before the onset of current events, back in the ’90’s I ran a small catering company with a friend, Tanya, in Bulgaria. Given my love of cooking and food-blogging, I have decided to branch out into local small-event catering and personal meal-prep. There seems to be a market for this, and is something I would enjoy doing while looking for a permanent full-time job.
While I specialize in plant-based recipes, everything is customizable and I have been cooking meat etc. for over 30 years – never had any complaints! Hit me up for your food-prep needs.