Friday, September 27, 2013

Spicy Tamales- MoFo Post Twenty

Post #20 for Vegan MoFo 2013. 

Welcome to post 20! I have made my goal by posting 20 times in one month. This might be my last post for the month and for MoFo. My goal was to post 20 times during the month and I have met that goal. I am considering one more post before the month ends sharing more Puerto Rico pictures. The trip was a little over a month ago and I have not yet had the time to sort through all of the pictures. This month has found me busy and a bit too distracted to do that.

Here are the tamales all wrapped up
I have not decided if I will have any more posts for the month, so I wanted to leave you with one of my favorite meals- spicy tamales. This meal was a lot of work and took longer than I would have liked, but the end result was delicious! It was great at dinner and just as great the next day warmed up for lunch at work. I unwrapped them the evening before and placed them in my glass lunch containers for lunch the next day. I normally add hot sauce to my lunch foods, but I had no need because the spice was inside! 

It had been years since I have had a tamale because they generally contain dairy. I have been thinking for a while about recreating this dish. As a child, I have a memory of making them with my mother. I do not remember eating these more than once, but I wish we had. There are so many fillings that could be used inside the tamale, but I decided to go with vegan cheese and a green chili and chipotle and adobo pepper mixture. I wanted to keep it relatively simple, but spicy. It had been a while since I purchased canned chipotle and adobo, but had been craving the smoky flavor of the pepper. The tamale was a perfect vessel for that craving. 

Left: filling, Right: Guacamole
The tamales take quite a while and can be labor intensive, but I feel that with practice the process will go faster. I have not tried it, but I wonder if the corn mixture can be made in advance by a day or two. The recipe makes about 12 tamales, but it is best to soak more than 12 husks in case any break and for the ties. I soaked about five more than I needed and ended up having to double up several because of rips in the husks. 

I hope you enjoy these tamales as much as we did! I expect to try these beauties again with plenty of other fillings. Along side the tamales, I served a homemade guacamole.

Spicy Tamales 
  • One package of dried corn husks
  • 1 c vegan cheese
  • 1 can chipotle and adobo
  • 8 oz chilies, any spice level
  • 16 oz frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 1/2 c masarepa (I used this bc I had it leftover, but you could use masaharina)
  • 1 tbsp vegan butter
Soak the corn husks in water according to package directions (should be about an hour or two). When finished soaking, take one of the husks and tear off strips to use to tie the tamales.

While soaking, make the cornmeal filling. In the food processor process the thawed corn until it forms a thick paste. Add in the cornmeal and masarepa and process until a dough forms. Set aside. 

Remove four peppers from the can and chop. In a bowl combine the chipotle and adobo and the chilies. Mix until incorporated.  Add in some of the sauce in the can and mix again. Taste for spice level and add more, as desired.

Remove the corn husks from the water and dry them off so that they are not dripping wet. Place a flattened husk on a work surface and place several tablespoons of the corn filling on the husk. Flatten out the cornmeal with your hands to make a square in the center of the husk. Place some of the cheese and pepper mixture in the tamale. Fold the sides of the husks to enclose the filling. Then fold the bottom of the husk over the tamale and use the torn husk pieces to tie the tamale together. I used two ties per tamale. 

Place a steamer basket in a large saucepan. When the water comes to a boil, add in the steamer basket and place the tamales on top of each other in the basked. Place on the lid, turn down the heat to medium low and steam for 45 minutes. When finished, unwrap the tamales and serve!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

South American Quinoa- MoFo Post Nineteen

Post #19 for Vegan MoFo 2013. 

Before the quinoa was added

Most of my posts up to this point have featured Latin dishes that are popular in this country. Dishes that could commonly be located on restaurant menus and food trucks. I decided to go a little less traditional today and focus on a food item that is not necessarily associated with Latin cuisine. Quinoa is a "grain" that originated from South America, yet we do not see it featured in may traditional Latin foods. Since becoming gluten free, this grain has made its way into many of our meals. 

Finished product
Quinoa is considered to be a complete protein and is a good source of fiber, calcium, and more.  The flavor tends to be nutty and can be crunchy if not overcooked. I tend to prefer it a bit crunchy and less cooked. I guess we could call it al dente! We try to incorporate quinoa about once a week. John even enjoys it for breakfast at times. It is versatile enough to be served savory and sweet, like rice. In my opinion, it can be substituted for rice in many dishes. While I love rice, I like to change it up a bit by using quinoa. 

After going gluten free, I received a cookbook that was made up of all gluten free recipes. The book contained meat and eggs and therefore I immediately dismissed it. Then it brought up the passion that I used to have of veganizing recipes. Years ago, I used to watch Food Network and veganized recipes that enticed me. This died away after the diagnosis came. The presence of this book seemed to rekindle that love of veganizing recipes. There are some items in the book that are vegan, but I have enjoyed veganizing many of the recipes. 

One such recipe was a South American Chicken and Quinoa dish. I made several substitutions and changes to the recipe, enough to even call it my own. While the dish might not be what we consider to be traditional Latin cuisine, it has a lot of flavors like coconut, turmeric, peppers, and onions. The coconut milk added richness and creaminess to the quinoa. The addition of curry powder made it almost seem Indian in nature. I find it nice to have a product like Beyond Meat that is both gluten free, vegan, and a good cruelty free version of chicken. If you are soy-free consider removing the Beyond Meat and using beans! 

South American Quinoa
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 package of Beyond Meat
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 bell peppers, green or red, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 c quinoa
  • 1 c vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 c light coconut milk
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp of grated ginger
Combine the turmeric and thyme in a bowl. Dredge the Beyond Meat with the spice mixture to thoroughly coat. Set aside. 

Heat a half of teaspoon of oil in skillet and add the bell pepper and onion. Cook two minutes. The vegetables should be tender. Remove from the pan and place it back on the stove and add the remaining half of teaspoon of oil. When warm, place the Beyond Meat and cook for 3-4 minutes to warm. Set aside. 

Meanwhile combine the quinoa, broth, coconut milk, curry, and ginger in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 12 minutes. When finished, add the vegetable mixture to the skillet with the Beyond Meat. Then add the quinoa mixture and cook for 3-5 minutes until the remaining liquid is absorbed.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Papusas Failures- MoFo Post Eighteen

Post #18 for Vegan MoFo 2013. 

Papusa failures. Don't they look good though?
Only a couple of posts left for the month of September and MoFo 2013! I made it to post 17 without a failure......then came the post 18 about papusas! So here you have it! My failure for MoFo. I think it is important to share our successes and our failures. We are all creators and every creation cannot be a success, I feel as though I have had many failures that lead me to successes. As I read all of these lovely blogs full of successes, I wonder about the failures. Not because I am a crumudgen who wants my fellow MoFo'ers to fail, but because it brings out the humanity. I have seen several blogs this year with failures and it gave me the courage to post about one of my own.

Many years ago, we had a restaurant in the area that served Nicaraguan and and Salvadorian food. One of my favorite items on the menu were the papusas. They came with a meat and a vegetarian option. The veg option had beans and cheese. They were crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. The dough seemed to be made of corn flour of some sort. They were a favorite served with salsa, rice, and beans. I was sad when the restaurant went out of business as they had so many dishes that I had never seen before. 

These are the papusa balls before I shaped and stuffed them
Since that restaurant, I have had papuses one other time. They were at a place that told me they were gluten free, but then I later found out that they used the same oil as gluten (therefore not gluten free). Since that incident, I have wanted to try the round gooey pockets. I reviewed techniques online and set out to make them using what I thought was going to be my own spectacular recipe. 

I encountered trouble as soon as I started putting the papusas together. I was not able to get a proper seal and many of the pockets leaked the filling. I pan fried them in a little bit of oil and they were heavy and oily tasting. I used olive oil, which was probably among one of my many mistakes. The oil flavor was not appealing one bit with the corn flour. My second mistake was that I used masarepa from my very successful arepa posting earlier in the month. It felt like the flour was a bit too dense for the papusa. From what I had seen online, masa harina is commonly used. 

The papusa pockets were heavy, oily, and did not have enough vegan cheese in them. I was not able to get much filling inside the pockets and the beans seemed to dry the inside out. There was obviously a technique that I was missing. They were not inedible, but they were not something I would ever want to eat again. I plan to remake them again, but will most likely follow a recommended recipe. 

This failure, led me to think of another idea that ended up being quite successful (post to follow this week). I would like to know, what have been your cooking 
failures and did they lead you to any successes?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lime Avocado "Cheese"cake- MoFo Post Seventeen

Post #17 for Vegan MoFo 2013. 

Cheesecake after baking, but before it set in the fridge
I have focused all of my recipes on savory entrees thus far. I am a fan of savory items, but I also enjoy sweets once and a while. Lately, I have been eating more sweets than normal because of all of the birthdays and the amazing friends that I have. In keeping with my sweet-eating month, I thought it was time to create a Latin inspired dessert. The thought of Flan went through my head, but I am not a fan of the consistency or the dessert in general. I know that it is a widely loved dessert, but it just is not my thing. Not to mention the large reliance on eggs in the dessert. 

As I pondered my options, I was reminded of two things. First was margarita pie that I had seen people eat at a previous job. It was not the most appetizing looking dessert as it was bright green and was made of sorbet. However, it was served with a pretzel crust and that was of interest to me. I am not a fan of sorbet either. I have not had a vegan sorbet, but before I went vegan I had tried it several times and felt was not worth the calories.

Cheesecake after it had set in the fridge
Second, at Paladar Vegetariano we were served a lime and avocado pie that was out of this world! The pie was raw and delicious and a perfect ending to that nice evening. I originally wanted to recreate the raw pie, but I made an attempt that I felt was a pure failure. I brought it as an experiment to dinner at a friends house and it was not edible to me. John and my friend ate it and said that they liked it, but I am convinced they were being nice. It was hard for me to stomach. I did not put in enough lime to avocado ratio left out a sweet element to the dessert. 

Thinking of the margarita pie and the pie from Paladar Vegetariano, I had the idea to create an avocado lime cheesecake. One of my first attempts at making a vegan dessert was a cheesecake and it was a pure success. I was able to fool carnivores with the dessert, thinking it was a cheesecake made from cows milk. The recipe is such a success, that I wanted to follow a similar structure. The difference was that in this creation, wanted to remove some of the vegan cream cheese from the recipe. Avocado is creamy and seemed like a good substitution for some of that cream cheese. So I set out to replace some of it with the creamy avocado to see how the cheesecake would turn out. 

I brought cheesecake experiment to a birthday dinner for a friend. Some people asked for seconds, so I think the recipe was a success. I would like to use the pretzel crust for other pies and plan to try a different crust with the cheesecake as well to experiment even further. The pretty green of the cheesecake was fun! I also enjoyed the creaminess of the avocado and vegan cream cheese. The lime was quite strong in the pie, but it felt appropriate. If you are not a fan of lime, I suggest cutting the recipe down to one lime juiced.  I plan on making this again! What fun desserts have you created lately?

Lime Avocado "Cheese"cake

  • 2.5 c gluten free pretzels
  • 1 tbsp vegan butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
Pie filling:
  • 1.5 avocados
  • 1 tub of vegan cream cheese
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 c vegan sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c sorghum flour
For the crust, set the oven at 375 degrees. Crush the pretzels in to small pieces using a bag and the back of something flat (I used a measuring cup). Mix in the melted butter and brown sugar. Press into a large pie pan. Place into the oven and bake for 15 minutes until crispy. Remove from the oven and let cool while you make the filling. 

Place the avocados and cream cheese into a bowl. Use a mixer to make the filling smooth. Add in the lime juice, vegan sugar, and vanilla extract. Mix more incorporating all of the ingredients. Then fold in the flour. Spoon the mixture into the cooled pie crust and bake 40 minutes. 

Remove from the oven and let cool. Then place in the refrigerator over night to set. Serve as is or you can use whip cream or berries on top.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Gluten Freeversary- MoFo Post Sixteen

Post #16 for Vegan MoFo 2013. 

I am deviating from my theme today. Vegan MoFo generally happens in October, but this year it falls in the month of September. This month is filled with many birthday celebrations and smiles, but it also reminds me of a difficult time in my past. I blog about this every year as a remembrance of what I have had to overcome. Many have had to overcome much more than this, but this is nonetheless a milestone in my life that I need to share yearly.

In my late 20's, I began to develop an odd health condition. My life had become unpredictable, planning it around when I might get sick. I started to fear social interactions, especially ones that involved food. In every situation, I had to know where the escape route was or have access to my keys in case I needed to leave suddenly. My heart would often race and I would become flustered with the thought of getting sick. My only way of comfort would be to run to the bathroom or a private area and breathe. I feared that people would notice I was getting up too often. I would make excuses, spill items on myself, and pretend to get phone calls.

People that spent a lot of time with me started to notice that something was wrong. I also had excuses for that. I started avoiding certain situations so that people would not notice. The thought of eating out in a restaurant would give me heart palpitations. I tried by ordering light and taking little nibbles praying that sickness would not set in. Sometimes that plan failed. When it failed, I would begin sweating and running to the restroom. I worried about ruining everyone's dinner.  There were times where I kept people waiting while I paced in the dark to beat off the nausea. Pepto bismal and ginger chews became staples in my purse and my diet. 

The more I felt this way so unpredictably, the more I started to worry. I had just entered my thirties and something was very wrong. Was I dying? What was happening to my body? I kept a food diary, but could not link what was happening to food. Sometimes, I would not have eaten for hours, but the smell of food would turn my stomach. No signs pointed to food. I began to think that I had a mental condition.

After many months of worrying, doctors appointments, and different diagnosis my Doctor suggested that I had Celiac Disease. She suggested that I go to a specialist to confirm. There were many things that followed after that, but the end result was an a blood test and an upper endoscopy to confirm that I in fact had Celiac Disease. 

The news came to me three years ago today. I had come home from work, John was making Pad Thai with wheat noodles, and I went out to get the mail. The mailbox contained a thick envelope addressed to me. With fear, I opened up the package alone on the front steps. My worst fears confirmed, I had Celiac Disease. I walked in the door, handed the packet to John, and then fell apart. The next day I headed to Madison, WI for work even though I felt as though I had just fallen apart. At the time, if felt like my whole world had come crashing down before me.

I will never forgot my last gluten meal. In hindsight, I would have chosen something different like a pizza, sourdough or Italian bread, or maybe even cake. While John suggested that I ease into the diet, I disagreed and decided jump in with both feet. September and October were extremely hard and depressing months for me, but I made it. I survived it and it has made me a stronger person today.

So I break my MoFo theme to recall these memories. For me it is important to remember this time and realize how much I have grown from this whole experience. While I do not have an allergy, I have come to have an understanding for those who have allergies and/or sensitivities. This all is a good reminder that when life gives you lemons, you should make gluten free vegan lavender lemon cupcakes! :-)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Empanadas- MoFo Post Fifeteen

Post #15 for Vegan MoFo 2013. 

I feel like empanadas are all the rage these days. I see them sold at food trucks, see them on menus, and hear about them in the media. The concept is genius- a hand pie of sorts with a savory filling. Before going vegan, I tried them several times at the local farmers market. It was a potato and soy meat filling. I really enjoyed the flavor and wondered why I had not had one before. After going vegan and then gluten free, I forgot about them. 

Fast forward to Puerto Rico and our stay at Maravilla and I was joined once again with the savory hand pie. I believe the filling was black bean and various vegetables. I do not remember exactly, but I was excited to once again get to eat this treat. The predominant flavor in the dough was corn and chunks of cornmeal could be seen. The crust was a bit firm, which works for an empanada as it would seem you should eat it out of your hand. As I enjoyed the pie looking out over the ocean, I thought about making these when I got home. I thought about different types of flavors and crusts. I decided that I would make my empanada with a more delicate crust, more like a pie crust. 

One of my favorite pie crusts is oat based and from the Welcoming Kitchen cookbook. It is very rich and crumbly and can be enjoyed savory or sweet. I add more agave nectar to the recipe when I am making a sweet pie and less when it is savory. This crust has worked well for me as the base of quiche, pot pies, and an apple pie. I decided to put it to the test for an empanada. I made the dough using my electric mixer and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour. I cannot share this recipe as it is not mine, but I encourage you to use your favorite xgfx crust recipe. It is key that you use a crust that you can easily roll out with a rolling pin or pat down with your hands. Gluten free doughs can often be sticky, so have some extra flour on hand for your work surface. 

For my filling, I decided to go with mushrooms, onions, spinach, and pepper jack vegan cheese. I have been enticed lately by Veg-Am, one of my favorite bloggers, and her use of mushrooms. Cremini are my mushroom of choice as they are hardy and "meaty". They hold up well to cooking. Like most mushrooms, they shrink when cooked. Not a fan of the mushroom? No worries! Sub in another ingredient instead. I cannot leave out my mushroom hating friends! These are supposed to be fun and delicious, so go wild if you wish! 

Mushroom and Spinach Empanadas
  • 1 recipe of your favorite pie dough
  • Gluten free flour for rolling out the dough
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped small
  • 2 c mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 c spinach
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 c vegan pepper jack cheese
  • 1 tbsp almond milk for an "egg wash"
Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add water or olive oil to the pan. When hot, add in onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Then add in garlic and cook a minute more. Add the mushrooms to the pan and let them sweat out and cook, this should take about 5 minutes. Add spinach, liquid smoke, paprika, and chili powder to the pan and let the spinach wilt. Turn the heat off and set the mixture aside. 

While the mixture cools, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the pie dough and cut into rectangular strips. Use as much flour as needed to roll out the dough. I was able to get 7 strips out of mine, but you might get less. Place about a tablespoon of cheese in the center of the strip, then top with spinach mixture. Take the short end of one side of the strip and fold it over to touch the other end. Seal the sides of the pocket with your fingers and form into a half moon shape. Make sure that the crust remains sealed. You can close with a fork at the ends or with your fingers. I formed an edge around mine. 

Place the empanadas on a prepared baking pan. Brush the top and sides of each empanada with the almond milk. Place in the oven for about 25 minutes. Check to make sure they do not brown too much. Remove, let cool for about 10 mins and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Vegan Queso and Potato Tacos- MoFo Post Fourteen

Post #14 for Vegan MoFo 2013.

Here it is all put together.
Who does not love a taco out there? While tacos have a Latin origin, they have become so popular here. I have seen so many variations of the taco in restaurants and food trucks. The concept is quite simple, but the flavors can make all of the difference. I generally prefer a crispy shelled taco to the soft shell. As a child, I would get excited about taco night. My mom would make seasoned ground beef and then we would have lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, and more to fill our taco. She usually served crunchy shells. This was often accompanied by what she called Spanish rice and various other vegetable sides. 

As I became vegetarian as a teenager, I remember my mom buying veggie taco "meat" for me and having the same dinner. I do not remember the brand, but I enjoyed the tacos just the same. Now that I am vegan and gluten free, it is harder to find a taco "meat" filling. There are a few on the market and they are just ok. I have made similar fillings using TVP, but sometimes I like to go a bit more exciting with our fillings. As I was flipping through a recent issue of VegNews, I saw a post for potato tacos and queso fresco. The recipe looked delicious! After looking through it, I realized that I already made each of their suggested fillings my own way. 

The inspiration for the dish comes from VegNews, using two of my own recipes. The third recipe is adapted from a VegNews email that I received over a year ago. The magazine had a crumbly queso fresco that looked good, but the queso dip that I had many times before sounded better. One of the first recipes I created on my own was a tomatillo salsa years ago before I was even vegan. After looking back, I realized that I had never shared it before. I have served it to many salsa lovers and it has been a hit. Lastly, the potatoes are the standard ones we make when we want oven roasted ones. Sometimes we change up the seasoning depending on the accompanying side dishes. 

Tomatillo salsa and queso dip
I was so pleased with putting the three of these recipes together. The tacos were amazing. I only ate two small ones because the potatoes and queso dip are filling. Beware, this queso dip makes a large serving. Be prepared to buy some tortilla chips and make nachos to use it up. It will still be there after you have chowed down an the remaining soft corn tortillas. Now that I have this combination down, I expect to have this quite a bit. And not to toot my own horn, but the tomatillo salsa is so good that I could literally drink it up. If you think I am kidding, ask my friends if I drink sauces when I like them. (Example- the spicy peanut sauce made by Fiction Kitchen and the homemade ketchup by Ninth Street Bakery)

 I hope you enjoy these recipes during your taco nights as much as we do!

Vegan Queso and Potato Tacos

  • 3 medium sized potatoes, washed and cubed 
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin  
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the potatoes in a baking pan, sprinkle with seasonings, then drizzle olive oil and toss or stir to coat. Place in the oven and back for about 25 minutes turning once. If you like a little crunch to your potatoes, turn on the broiler the last couple of minutes
Tomatillo Salsa
  • 8 tomatillos, skin peeled off and quartered
  • 1/2 onion, quartered
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped (I used one red and one green)
  • 1 c cilantro
  • 1 lime, juice only
  • salt to taste
Place all ingredients in a food processor and process about 30 seconds or less until smooth. Taste for salt and add more as desired. 
Vegan Queso (adapted from a VegNews recipe)
  • 1 c raw cashews
  • 1 1/3 c almond milk
  • 1 3/4 c soy milk
  • 1 tbsp vegan margarine
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp gluten free all purpose flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped 
  • 1/4 c nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp white miso
  • 1 tbsp hot sauce, more or less to taste
  • 1/8 tsp salt, or less to taste
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 16 oz can pinto beans
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 3 tsp corn starch, mixed with 3 tbsp water
  • 1/3 c vegan mozzarella cheese
Place the cashews and almond milk into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Set aside. Heat a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add in the olive oil and margarine and allow it to melt. Then add in the flour and stir to coat. Let cook for two minutes. Add in the garlic and allow to cook one more minute. Then add in the soy milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, miso, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and cumin. Stir with whisk to incorporate. When mixed add in pinto beans, tomato, and corn starch mixture. Let cook for 5-7 minutes until thick. Then add in cheese and stir until melted.
  • 10 corn taco shells, soft or hard
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
Place the taco shells on a plate, line the shell with two tablespoons of potatoes, bell pepper slices, queso, and then top with tomatillo salsa. Repeat and enjoy! Add some hotsauce to spice things up a bit! 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Paladar Vegetariano: A Home-Cooked Meal- MoFo Post Thirteen

Post #13 for Vegan MoFo 2013. 

Pumpkin Flower Appetizer
For the post today, I would like to go back to Puerto Rico. One of the most interesting parts of the trip was going to Paladar Vegetariano in San Juan. When we called, we realized that this restaurant was being run out of the owners house. John spoke with the owner, Geronimo, and he explained that he would make a meal catered to our interests using creativity and local foods. We were excited by the idea and his willingness to make an all vegan and gluten free meal for us. He had some questions of clarification around gluten free and I was pleased with the level and detail of his questions. I already had a feeling that we were going to get a meal that was made with care.

When we arrived, we were greeted warmly by Geronimo and Mendoza, our server. We were seated in the living room at a table with candles and local produce. Geronimo explained to us that Paladar was a Cuban concept of welcoming people into one's home and cooking for them. We had never heard of the concept, but were delighted to be in his home. We also had the meal explained to us. Almost all ingredients were local and organic. Some even came from the backyard of Paladar Vegetariano. We also learned that many of these ingredients were sold at a local farmers market on the weekend. I could tell we were in for a real treat. 

One of the items on the table was called a quenepa and we were encouraged to sample the fruit. It was unlike nothing that I had ever tasted before. It had a large pit in the center and had a pink fleshy fruit on the inside. The pit was larger than fruit output and I cannot quite describe the flavor of the pink flesh. It was mushy. sweet, citrus-like, and tropical tasting. Geronimo gave us the whole vine to take home with us and enjoy. 

The meal started off with a cucumber and lemon juice water that was slightly sweetened. It was served in a wine bottle and left at our table so we could have as much as we wanted. Needless to say, we drank the whole bottle. Shortly after the bottle arrived that our first course was presented. Mendoza was so attentive and explained again to us what was in the first course.  It was salad with local greens, pumpkin seeds, shaved fresh coconut, sprouts, and guava dressing. The salad was simple yet flavorful. The guava dressing was slightly acidic and sweet and was unlike any dressing that I had before, but wished that I could have it every day. I love seeds on a salad and the touch of pumpkin seeds and coconut shavings was creative and delicious. 

We were off to a great start. The appetizer came out and we were wowed by the presentation and dish. It was a pumpkin flour breaded and stuffed with rice flower and pan fried. The plate was drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The dipping sauce was guava and coconut. The flower had a delicate and crunchy flavor. This was the first time that I had ever been served a flower as the main item on a dish. It was also the first time I had tasted a flower fried. We shared the plate and wished we had more, however; after the rest of the meal arrived were glad we did not. The evening provided us so much food that I even had some leftovers for breakfast the next day! 

The main course took a while to come out, but we did not mind. We were still enjoying the flavor of the pumpkin flower and dipping sauce. The dinner itself lasted about three hours, but did not seem that it was that long because of all of the good food and conversation. For our main course, we were presented with chayote filled with pumpkin basmati rice, pumpkin seeds,  chayote heart, and a balsamic reduction.  While chayote is a fruit, it resembles squash and a root vegetable. There is not any sweetness to it and it almost tasted similar to a potato, but not exactly. The chayote heart was soft and almost creamy, much like that of a avocado heart but not the prickly fibers. I ate all of the rice filling and about a fourth of the chayote body. They wrapped up the remainder of the body for me to take home. I took back with me some of the guava sauce from the appetizer to sprinkle on top. 

This was my serving- it was huge!
Along with the meal, we were also given homemade hot sauce, much like most places in Puerto Rico. I do not remember the names of all of the peppers used, but it had a lot of kick to it and a fresh flavor. Have I mentioned how much I love that almost every restaurant had homemade hot sauce? I could not get enough of the homemade hot sauce. I am a sucker for Franks Hot Sauce, but these were so many steps above my go to sauce. I began to look forward to sitting down and being presented with the homemade hot sauce. In Puerto Rico one does not have to ask for hot sauce, but is presented with it as a natural part of the meal. 

Me, John, Geronimo, and Mendoza
The last course of the meal was a key lime avocado pie with a cashew, pumpkin seed, and coconut crust. On the top were local banana slices. I was so full when dessert came out that I could only take a couple of bites and asked to take the rest home. (And yes, it was enjoyed for breakfast the next day with the chayote.) The dessert was rich, sweet, and inventive. It was not a complicated dessert with gluten free flours or long baking times. It was based off of fruit and nuts and was still decedent! 

After wrapping up the dessert, we talked with Geronimo and Mendoza for a while. We also met another person who helped out, but I cannot remember his name. We even paused for a picture. While the quality is not the best, it is still a nice token from the evening. The staff was so kind and friendly and the evening really was a wonderful experience. I recommend eating at Paladar Vegetariano to anyone visiting San Juan. Make sure to call ahead and set up a reservation well in advance. If you are coming from the United States, you can call before you leave for the Island. You do not have to worry about calling internationally as Puerto Rico is part of the United States. I say this not to state the obvious, but I am amazed by the amount of people who thought I was leaving the country. We did not have to present passports! :-)

Coming storm over the ocean
Thank you to staff at Paladar Vegetarianio to giving us an evening of delicious local food and an evening of lovely conversation!  

Monday, September 16, 2013

"What Am I Supposed to Do With All This Paella"- MoFo Post Twelve

Post #12 for Vegan MoFo 2013.

We have approached the third week into September and Vegan MoFo! This month has flown by! I have really enjoyed the new blogs that I have come across this year as well as the ones I have been following for years. It is impressive the passion and love of vegan cooking that is shared across the globe! 

Paella before the peas have been added
The post for today will take us to Spain! When I was 17, my Spanish class took a trip to Spain to practice our Spanish and to experience a different culture. I was so fortunate to be able to go with them. It was an amazing trip! Back then I was a vegetarian, not vegan, and so was one of the male Spanish teachers. Therefore, I was able to follow him around and order what he ordered! It really could not have worked out any better. While that was many years ago, I remember not having any trouble finding vegetarian options. One meal that stuck out to me the most is in Madrid. I do not remember the name of the restaurant, but I recall sitting on a terrace overlooking beautiful architecture that the city had to offer. Senor Parks ordered vegetarian paella and I decided to do the same. I had heard of paella before, but knew that it was loaded with seafood. I was pleasantly surprised when ours came out with an array of vegetables. I loved the dish! 

To this day, that is one of the few meals that stuck with me from the trip. The other one was at a place where my classmates were afraid to speak to the waiter in Spanish, so I ordered for the table. I believe that we were in the city of Barcelona that day. I believe that the dish was called tacos con queso. We thought we were getting cheese tacos. When the dish arrived, it was a plate of cheese with olives in the middle. It was not what we expected, but it was fun to order in Spanish! 

Over the years, I have made paella thinking about that special evening in Madrid. I am not sure how closely this dish mirrors what I had that night, but I enjoy the flavor and aroma that this dish brings! I have found that Trader Joe's sells reasonably priced saffron. I purchased a small bottle and it has lasted me quite a while. I do not have a paella pan, but used a wok for size. This recipe makes quite a bit of paella. Which reminds me of a line from Seinfeld when George's Mom, Estelle, proclaims "What am I supposed to do with all this Paella?". I like to save the remaining paella for leftovers!

Vegetarian Paella
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 4 c vegetable broth, low or no sodium homemade or store bought
  • 2 c brown rice
  • 1/8 tsp saffron
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 15 oz can or artichoke hearts (not the kind in oil)
  • 1 15 oz can of chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 c frozen peas
Broth with saffron
Heat a wok with the olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is hot, saute onion for 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute a minute more. Then add the broth, saffron, and thyme to the walk. Allow it to boil, add the rice and cook for 35 minutes, covered. Add bell pepper, artichoke hearts, parsley, pepper, and chickpeas. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes until all of the water is absorbed. 

Open the lid and add the frozen peas. Turn off the heat and allow the pan to sit, closed for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid, stir and serve warm.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Vegan Chorizo and "Veggs"- MoFo Post Eleven

Post #11 for Vegan MoFo 2013.

Chorizo is a dish that I tend to hear about quite a bit. I see it on restaurant menus, hear about it online, and have seen it on television. I have never had the meat version of the dish, but have had the pleasure to have vegan chorizo on many occasions. I have had it at vegetarian restaurants and have purchased at various grocery stores in the area. Trader Joes has a brand that is particularly flavorful and gluten free. It comes in a plastic casing and is reasonably priced. 

The final dish. Chorizo and "Veggs"
While I enjoy the flavor, I prefer to have homemade items so that I can control the sodium levels in our food. As you have probably noticed from previous posts, I am not a huge fan of salt. I almost never add it to any dish, other than baked goods. I seem to get a more than adequate amount of salt by consuming copious quantities of hot sauce. Have I mentioned that it is an addiction of mine? To lessen the amount of hot sauce that I consume, I try to add more no-salt spices to our food. It is sort of working. Ok, I am lying to myself, it isn't working at all. I still use way too much hot sauce!

Spice blend used for the chorizo.
In honor of my Latin cuisine theme, I wanted to attempt making chorizo. When we usually get the store bought kind, we serve it with scrambled tofu with a lot of vegetables.  On this occasion, I wanted to focus on chorizo and scrambled Vegg's. What is scrambled "Vegg's" you ask? It is scrambled tofu made using The Vegg which is a product that is all plant-based replacement for an egg yolk. It mimics the texture and color of the egg without cholesterol, animal ingredients, cruelty to animals, or allergens. 

Chorizo and colorful spices cooking
I served the chorizo and Veggs with roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli.  he end result of the dish did not mirror the vegan chorizo purchased in stores, but I was pleased with the taste and texture of the dish. I also enjoyed the vegan scrambled eggs alongside of the chorizo.I have become a huge fan of The Vegg! I have created several recipes using it and even had one published on The Vegg's website and in a recent cookbook published by the company called "Cooking with The Vegg"

Have you recreated any store bought vegan items? Have you purchased and tried The Vegg?
Vegan Chorizo and "Veggs"
  • 1 pound tofu
  • 1 c water*
  • 4 tsp Vegg powder
  • 1/4 c red wine
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 c TVP granules
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp minced dried onion
  • 1/8 tsp salt 
  • cilantro (optional)

Press the tofu using a tofu press or wrapped in a kitchen towel and placed between two plates with a weight on top. If using a tofu press, the pressing will take about 15 minutes. If using plates, press for about a half hour to 45 minutes. While the tofu is pressing, boil 1 cup of water. When the water comes to a boil, pour it over the granules and let them sit for 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile heat the red wine in a skillet over medium heat. When warm,  place the minced garlic into the red wine and cook for 3 minutes. When the TVP is finished sitting mix in the parikas, coriander, cumin, black pepper, ground cloves, oregano, thyme, granulated garlic, dried onion, and salt. Then mix in the TVP into the wine and garlic mixture in the pan. Add in the tomato sauce and mix. Let simmer for 5-7 minutes until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside. 

In the same pan, crumble the pressed tofu and let warm in the pan for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the water with The Vegg mixture using a blender*. When mixed, pour over the tofu. Let the tofu cook for 5-7 minutes until the mixture becomes thick.  

When finished cooking, sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with your favorite breakfast sides like potatoes, salsa, tortillas, and vegetables. 

*If you like less runny scrambled tofu, use less water. For more runny scramble use 1 cup or more of water.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cafe Berlin- MoFo Post Ten

Post #10 for Vegan MoFo 2013.

International, Puerto Rican, Vegetarian
Today we journey back to Puerto Rico, specifically to San Juan. While we were eating at Cafe Cultura, we noticed that the restaurant next door was Cafe Berlin. The sign caught our attention as it advertised vegetarian food. We had heard about the restaurant on Happy Cow and had visited the website. We were pleasantly surprised by all of the vegan offerings. It was hard to tell online specifically what was gluten free on the vegan menu, but they indicated that they had gluten free pasta and pizza on the menu. Based on this small sampling of menu items, the restaurant seemed like it would offer a nice evening dinner.

One evening we visited the restaurant and decided to sit outside. We overlooked a square in the old part of downtown San Juan. On this particular evening, there were quite a bit of people in the square walking and talking. There were men pushing carts selling ice cream and other frozen treats. Couples walking, talking, and holding hands, and the quiet buzz of children running around and playing in the square. The old part of San Juan was proving to be great place to visit. The area has trees, squares, and colorful buildings. It was peaceful to sit outside and enjoy the local culture. 

We were seated and our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable. She was able to explain the items that suited my needs. After careful consideration, we decided to begin with an appetizer of mofongo. Having a friend from Puerto Rico and being on the Island for several days, we had been hearing about this dish quite a bit. It was explained to me as green plantains mashed together, placed in a mold to make the cone shape, and then fried. The traditional version is most likely made with pork. Cafe Berlin was kind enough to make a vegan version. The mofongo was served simply with a bed of lettuce and two shaved carrots on top. The dish was delicious, but was a bit salty and dry. I kept thinking that it needed salsa or a sauce as an accompaniment, but that does not seem to be the way that this dish is normally served.  I did, however, enjoy the flavor of the green plantains. 

For dinner I ordered a Criollo Tofu which was tofu simmered in a criollo sauce and was served with rice, beans, and plantains. The sauce seemed to be tomato based and had bell peppers and caper berries. Along side of the dish was a small undressed salad. I really enjoyed the flavor of everything on my plate. After the salty mofongo, the salt in my dinner was starting to be overwhelming. If I would have ordered this without the appetizer, I would have probably not noticed the extra spice. The portion was rather large and I ended up having enough leftovers for a cold breakfast the next day. A breakfast leftover of rice, beans, and tofu was just what I needed for breakfast. I had time to recover from the salt of the mofongo and to drink a lot of water! I liked it even better the next day and would recommend this dish. 

John ordered the Veggie Guava Loaf. It was a home-made vegan load in a bell pepper guava sauce served with mashed a mashed potato log and carrots and broccoli. The dish was not gluten free and therefore I was unable to try it. However, John gave it rave reviews. When he saw it on the menu, he knew it was the dish for him. John loves veggie loaf and mashed potatoes. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that mashed potatoes are one of his favorite sides. He noticed that his dish was a significantly ess salty than my dish. Like mine, it was also very filling and he had to take leftovers back to the hotel for breakfast the next day. He attempted to finish it all, but he was concerned that he would be too full afterward. 

Sunset from out hotel room
Once we paid, we decided to take a walk to a local coffee shop and sample locally brewed coffee. I had noticed the coffee shop several days before when we have been driving around looking for a parking space. The coffee shop was connected to an store that contained art pieces by local artists. When we arrived, I was a bit warm and decided that I was not in the mood for coffee, but John was. Luckily for him, the place carried soy milk. He ordered a vegan latte' and spoke to the barista who informed him about local music playing the next evening. The coffee shop had people studying in the back and people chatting in the front. The barista was talkative and spoke English flawlessly, like most Puerto Ricans in the city. He enjoyed his coffee and then we walked back to the car and drove back to the hotel.

We had many evenings were we were able to see the sunset, but only in San Juan. When we were in Rincon, we were facing the wrong direction for a sunset. It was so peaceful to be able to see sun rises in the morning and the sunsets at night over the ocean. I was even able to wake up naturally to enjoy some of the sun rise. Back home, that is unheard of as I need an alarm to wake even get me up in the morning. I guess when I am relaxed and rested, I am able to wake up on my own. It would be wonderful if like was like one long vacation! If it was then I wonder if I would get too used to it an not enjoy vacation as much as I do now.  

Morning view of the beach
The only other thing that rivals ocean sunsets and sunrises over the ocean are sunsets and sunrises over the mountains. Each year, I strive to see one of the other. In the beautiful state of North Carolina, I have the option of seeing both within only a couple hour drive. While the North Carolina coast is nice, the coast in the Caribbean is unbeatable! Nothing compares to the clear water and white sand. It feels like a little slice of heaven. 

What is your slice of heaven on vacation?