Vegan baked lentils and brown rice (4-5 servings)

I have an old, brown blanket that I love to snuggle under to read or watch TV. It's seen better days; the fluffy, plush surface on one side is starting to wear a little thin, and the stuffing on the other side is beginning to pop out. The blanket isn't much to look at. You'd never see it in a West Elm catalog or at Crate and Barrel. But I love that blanket. It's warm and soft, and I know it's going to make me feel good whenever I drape it over myself on a chilly evening, no matter how stressful the previous hours have been.

This dish is the food equivalent of that blanket. It's not particularly pretty or trendy or stylish, but it's filled with the predictable sort of comfort I crave at the end of a long day. Its rich, earthy colors and simple flavors fill me up and let me know I'm home.

Plus, it's so simple to make. I love "dump-and-bake" recipes, as unattractive as that name sounds. It's basically just a veganized version of this Food.com recipe. I hesitate to call it a casserole, because to me, casseroles involve more layers and textures, but I suppose it's a very simple sort of casserole. Whatever you call it, it's an easy, soothing, healthful meal, and I think you're going to love it.

You will need:

  • 3/4 cup green lentils, dry

  • 1/2 cup long-grain brown rice, dry

  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews, toasted

  • handful of dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes (opt.)

  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder

  • 2 2/3 cups vegetable broth

  • 1 1/4 cups white wine

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Place all ingredients in a 1 1/2-quart ungreased casserole dish and mix gently.
  3. Bake, covered, for 90 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

And that's it! It bakes for a long time, but the prep couldn't be much easier. I think I might add chopped celery and carrots next time and maybe some mushrooms for a little more depth. I love that the simplest foods are often the best!

Maple-lime sweet potato and black bean tacos (4 servings)

In my estimation, there are three levels of vegan cooking. Level I means simply leaving out the animal products without replacing them -- skipping the layer of cheese on top of a casserole, for example. There are times when this is perfectly workable and when the eater wouldn't even know anything was missing. However, there are other occasions where the final product is missing the richness or depth that the original ingredients contributed. Next, Level II vegan cooking involves making easy substitutes -- changing out oil for butter, soy sauce for Worcestershire, or non-dairy sour cream for the regular stuff. Again, this works well most of the time, and it's certainly easy. Level III is a little more complicated and requires replacing animal ingredients with creative substitutes that match the flavor, complexity, and texture of the originals.

When I cook vegan meals (and I do so three or four dinners per week, usually), I'm normally at a Level II. I'm trying to find more interesting ingredient substitutes though. Today's taco recipe is somewhere between Level II and Level III; it replaces the honey from these honey-lime sweet potato, corn, and black bean tacos with maple syrup (another lovely fall flavor) and makes up for the missing cheese with a dairy-free spicy sauce. I love sweet potatoes and could tell their roasted sweetness would be nicely offset by the acidity of the lime, but I knew leaving out the cheese would remove the rich, creamy accent flavoring. A quick search led me to this smooth and spicy chipotle sauce, which ended up being the perfect complement to the tacos.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes (You don't have to bother with peeling them.)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 lime
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 14.5-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 small flour tortillas, warmed

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted almonds (whole, sliced, or slivered -- doesn't matter), soaked for several hours
  • 1/4 cup canola or similarly neutral-tasting oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-2 chipotles in adobo
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
  2. Once you've diced the potatoes, transfer them to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with the olive oil and toss gently. Sprinkle the potatoes with cumin, paprika, coriander, the zest of the lime (save the lime for juice later), and red pepper flakes to taste. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Toss gently again, and then spread the potatoes out on the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, tossing halfway through.
  3. Meanwhile, place drained black beans in a small stockpot over medium-low heat. Add in the onion powder (Feel free to use fresh, diced onion if your insides are tougher than mine!), garlic, maple syrup, and oregano, along with the juice from the lime. Stir and cover. Allow the beans to simmer gently while the sweet potatoes roast.
  4. While the sweet potatoes and beans are doin' their thang, make the chipotle sauce. Drain the almonds. (If you forgot to soak the almonds, don't worry. I'm guessing your sauce will just come out a little less smooth.) Using a blender or food processor (or an immersion blender and wide-mouthed, tall jar), blend all the sauce ingredients until smooth. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
  5. Once the sweet potatoes are tender inside and slightly crispy outside, remove the pan from the oven. Top each tortilla with a spoonful of black beans, a scattering of sweet potato cubes, a drizzle of sauce, and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with hot sauce on the side, if preferred.

A quick anecdote about a mistake that turned into a proud moment: When I was blending the sauce, I started out with 3/4 cup water, which made the sauce way too thin. I mean, it was practically broth. I went through a panicked conversation in my head about what I could use as a thickener -- "Yogurt? Nope, won't work for a vegan recipe. Cream? Still nope. Cooked rice? Don't have any. Cornstarch? Seems weird here. Cooked, mashed vegetables? No -- oh, wait! Sweet potatoes!" They had just finished roasting, so I tossed in a couple cubes at a time, blending them into the sauce, until it had reached a thicker consistency. The potatoes gave the sauce a little extra flavor, too! Hooray for thinking on my feet!

CookingClassy's original taco recipe called for corn, but I decided to leave it out to save some calories. I'm sure it would taste great, but I was trying to cut corners, admittedly. Next time, I might cut the sweet potatoes down to one pound, as I had just enough beans for eight tacos but probably a cup of leftover potatoes. Hey, they'll make a nice side dish for something later in the week!

P.S. The leftover sauce is great on top of a vegan taco salad! Start with a bed of mixed greens and shredded carrots, crisp up some Yves veggie ground round in a skillet and add it to the greens; then add a few dollops of salsa and a drizzle of the chipotle sauce. Guacamole, beans, and diced tomato would also be great additions to this salad!

Samosa soup (6+ servings)

One of the most enlightening and entertaining aspects of cooking at home is realizing the sweeping variety of recipes that exist across the world. Sometimes I love to sit down with a cookbook and look at recipes I'll probably never make and might not even like just to take in the culinary diversity expressed by creative people all over the globe. 

So what is the most universally-consumed food across all cuisines? My gut says it's probably wheat, since almost all cultures consume some type of bread, pasta, dumpling, or noodle. But that same gut (which is getting hungrier the more I think about delicious, delicious carbs) also thinks the humble potato has to be in the top five somewhere. In fact, the wealth of scholarly publications on the history and cultural impact of the potato suggest I might be onto something! Mmm... potatoes.

According to the World Potato Atlas (yes, for realz), potatoes were first brought to India sometime in the 1600s but were initially received with skepticism. Today, however, they're used in many Indian dishes, from main dishes to dessert. They're often used in samosas, which are deep-fried, vegetable-stuffed pastries that are often spicy. I like samosas, but I'm not into deep-frying food at home, so when I saw this gorgeous vegan soup that turns samosas inside out, I couldn't wait to try it!

You will need:

  • 4-6 medium potatoes, scrubbed well but not peeled, chopped into even chunks
  • 1/2 tsp coconut oil
  • 1-2 green chilis, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, diced OR 1/2 Tbsp onion powder (Boo for IBS.)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (make sure it's gluten-free if you're going for that)
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 cup cooked green peas (I used frozen)
  • 1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • chutney and/or fresh cilantro leaves

Steps:

  1. Place the potato chunks in a large stockpot and cover with cold water by an inch or so. Bring to a boil and cook with the lid off or vented (to prevent it boiling over) until the potatoes are fork-tender. (The length of time will vary, depending on the size of your chunks.) Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot to keep warm. Set aside.
  2. Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a skillet; add the chilis, garlic, and onion/onion powder to the oil and cook 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the spices (cumin seeds through ginger, above) to the skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2-3 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant and sizzling.
  4. Using a rubber scraper, add the spice mixture to the drained potatoes. Pour in the vegetable broth, coconut milk, and lime juice. Use an immersion blender to blend the potatoes and liquids, making it as smooth or chunky as you prefer. (I used a lot of potatoes, so mine was THICK -- like one-step-below-mashed-potatoes thick!)
  5. When the soup has reached your desired consistency, fold in the peas and chickpeas. Add salt to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each portion with a swirl of chutney (Sharwood's Mango & Ginger Chutney is lovely) and/or a sprinkling of chopped cilantro leaves.

 

This soup is silky and elaborately-spiced. It wasn't hot-spicy (I used only one chili and it was getting old anyway) but deeply flavorful in a multi-layered sort of way. It really did taste like the inside of a samosa!

Admittedly, I changed quite a few things from Shannon's original recipe. I left out a couple spices but increased the amount of the remaining ones, added ginger and curry powder, upped the coconut milk, and skipped grinding the spices in a food processor. I didn't mind the texture of the seeds in the soup, especially because it meant I didn't have to clean my behemoth of a food processor. Sometimes laziness wins out over authenticity, especially in my case!

Happy Vegan MOFO (MOnth of FOod), friends! Once again, I'll try to post a new vegan recipe at least once a week. If there's anything in particular you'd like me to try out, leave a comment below!

Chipotle mac and cheese (4 servings)

What if I told you that you could make a completely dairy-free, animal-free macaroni and cheese dish that tasted like BACON? Would you call me crazy? (It's okay; I've been called worse.) 

Thanks to the ever-impressive Isa at The Post-Punk Kitchen, it's possible. And it's possibly one of the most delicious vegan dishes I've made to date.

Chipotles (smoked jalapeños) provide a bacon-y depth, while ground cashews make the dish decadent and creamy. I'll admit it: I was pretty skeptical about this one when I first found the recipe. I've had plenty of bowls of rich, gooey macaroni and cheese concoctions over the years (especially since moving to the South), and I wasn't sure how a dairy-free version would turn out. This version is a beautiful species of its own and shouldn't be made with the intention of fooling anyone into thinking it's made with real cheese or bacon. However, it is equally satisfying -- just in its own lovely way.

Isa's version called for miso in the sauce, but after scouring the Internet for ways to replace miso (I didn't want to buy a whole tub for one recipe), I found I could use tahini instead. Also, because Bryan isn't a fan of Brussels sprouts, I replaced them with roasted broccoli, which I think actually worked quite well, as the sauce soaked into the broccoli florets and infused them with flavor.

You will need: 

  • 8 oz dry macaroni (I used brown rice pasta but would recommend something sturdier)
  • 1 lb broccoli
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Sauce: 

    • 1 cup raw, unsalted cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours
    • 2-4 chipotles in adobo, seeded (I used 2!) 
    • 1 cup vegetable broth
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
    • 2 Tbsp sesame tahini

    Steps: 

      1. Preheat the oven to 425° F and start a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Cut the broccoli into florets and wash/drain. Toss them with the oil and a dash of salt, and spread them out on a baking pan. Roast for 18-20 minutes, or until they're lightly browned on the edges.
      2. While the pasta water is working on boiling, make the sauce. Drain the cashews and place them, along with the rest of the sauce ingredients, into a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the sauce is totally smooth. (If you're using a food processor, it might not get totally smooth. Myeh. Still tastes good.) Taste for salt.
      3. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and place it back into the pot. 
      4. Ideally, the broccoli should be roasted by this point so that you can immediately add it into the pot with the pasta. Pour the sauce over the pasta and broccoli and stir gently to distribute the smoky, creamy sauce. Add salt, if needed, and serve immediately.

      One note: If you forget to soak the cashews ahead of time, you can simmer them in water in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes, and then just drain them and go from there. 

      It might have been the fault of the pasta I used, but this dish wasn't great when reheated in the microwave the next day, so try to eat as much as you can when you make it! (It won't be hard; trust me!) 

      Vegan beer-glazed sausage and apples (4 servings)

      As my sister pointed out the other day, one problem with moving away from from your childhood home is that you forget that people around you don't understand your nostalgic references. For example, when the weather turns cool and crisp and the leaves begin to dry and change color, one fabulously fun but ludicrously simple attraction always comes to mind: Pumpkinland at Green Valley Nursery.

      Sadly, no one around here knows about Pumpkinland, and as far as I know, there is no Triangle equivalent. Yes, we have local hay rides or corn mazes, but nothing tops Pumpkinland, with its hay bale and cornstalk-festooned obstacle course and giant field of pick-your-own pumpkins. Oh, and it had a petting zoo! (Nothing says Halloween like baby goats and fuzzy rabbits, right?) I can still remember the odd fragrance the place gave off: dried straw mixed with livestock droppings. Ahh, it was Heaven.

      Oh, I'm sorry -- did you come here for a recipe this week? 

      One of the oddest parts of Pumpkinland was Harry's Hay Toss, which was, as far as I remember, a cordoned-off outdoor area filled with knee-deep hay where children were invited to -- you guessed it -- launch handfuls of hay at their unsuspecting younger siblings. My sister and I were never allowed to visit this attraction, and when I asked Bryan (a fellow Sinking Spring native) about it, he shook his head and said, "My parents hated  that thing. My brother and I used to get so filthy."

      But, by far, the most popular attraction at Pumpkinland was Dizzy's Darkroom, the nursery's best interpretation of a G-rated haunted house. They tried to make it scary, and honestly, for anyone under the age of eight, it was pretty spooky. In my mind now, it was huge and rambling, but in actuality, I think it was just a corridor between two rooms of the plant nursery, so it couldn't have been longer than a couple yards. I remember being freaked out by the hanging polyester spider webbing and the flashing strobe lights. (It was a simpler time.) Bryan and his brother used to pay their quarters to get in, wend their way through the haunted house, and then walk backwards to the start to do it again. (I like to imagine that my sister and I emerged from the exit and ran to my parents, whining, "Two boys in there are cheating! ")

      So yes, in my mind, autumn equals nostalgia. Some of my happiest childhood memories occurred in the fall, from meandering family car rides to Lititz to "nose poke" in the shops along East Main Street to crunching through the leaves in the playground near my Mom-Mom's house. It's a season that involves change, but moving forward always requires some looking back, in my mind.

       So happy fall, everyone! And happy Vegan Mofo

      This month's premier vegan offering is a remix from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe that originally featured regular sausage. However, by subbing oil for the butter and using Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage sausage (Expensive but well worth it, it's available at Whole Foods), I easily veganized this hearty, autumnal dish.

      You will need: 

      • 12 oz bottle of Belgium-style vegan wheat beer, such as Blue Moon Belgian White (Find vegan beer here!)
      • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
      • 12-14 oz vegan smoked sausage, sliced into 2-inch rounds
      • 1/2 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
      • 2 Tbsp canola oil
      • 1 large firm apple, such as Honeycrisp, unpeeled but cut into small chunks
      • 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
      • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
      • zest from half an orange
      • 1/2 tsp dried sage

      (A quick note: The only obnoxious thing about this recipe is the way the ingredients repeatedly go in and out of the pan like a terrier in heat through a dog door.  I kept a big serving bowl nearby to store the ingredients in between steps.)

      Steps: 

      1. Start by adding half the beer and the red pepper to a wide, rimmed skillet; turn the heat to medium-high and allow the beer to come to a boil. Then add the sausage and green beans and turn the heat down to medium-low. Let the sausage and beans simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until the beans are just tender. Pour the mixture into the serving bowl and set aside.
      2. Next, wipe out the skillet with a damp paper towel. Add 1 Tbsp of oil to the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook the apples int he oil for a few minutes until they're golden brown. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them on the serving platter.
      3. There should still be a tiny bit of oil left in the pan, so pick out the sausage from the serving platter (I warned you this gets annoying!) and add it to the skillet. Brown the sausage on all sides and then return it to the serving platter.
      4. With the heat still on medium, add the remaining beer to the skillet and then pour in the remaining oil, the brown sugar, the vinegar, and the orange zest. Whisk the mixture for a few minutes, allowing it to simmer, until it's slightly thickened. Return the sausage, green beans, and apples to the skillet to coat them in the glaze. Sprinkle the mixture with the dried sage and serve.

       

      If this dish doesn't remind you of fall, then you've never actually experienced the season. The smoked sausage recalls woodsmoke on blanket-wrapped evenings, the sage evokes late-season family dinners, and the sweet-tart apples call to mind long walks through scattered orange and red leaves.