Archive for March, 2009

Easy Bulgar or Cous Cous Salad


Easiness: **
Greenness: Vegan

Ingredients: (makes 1 serving)
1 cup bulgar wheat (or cous cous)
1 lime (can be ommited)
1 small white onion (can be substituted with red, yellow, or green onion)
1 large bunch of fresh parsley (about 1 cup chopped)
1 large tomato (or 2 small / roma tomatoes)
Olive Oil
salt and pepper to taste

  • Bulgar is derived from wheat and sold in either coarse, fine, or extra-fine form. The taste and texture is similar to cous cous. It is highly nutritious and makes for a very tasty side dish, snack, or small meal.

Directions:
Step 1) Prepare the bulgar (or cous cous). Basic cooking instructions: 1 cup bulgar to 2 cups of water. Rinse bulgar. Bring water to a boil, add bulgar. Return to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 15 minutes until soft.
Step 2) While the bulgar is cooking, chop the tomato into small chunks. Pull the leaves off the parsley and set aside. Dice the onion.
Step 3) When the bulgar is finished, fluff with a fork and add one teaspoon of olive oil. Combine with the chopped ingredients from step 2. Add squirts of lime to taste. Mix and serve.

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All About Fake Meat

Why eat fake meat?
Fake meat is a strange thing, for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. One of the questions I get asked a lot is “Why do you want to eat something that tastes like an animal if you’re a vegetarian?” Well, I don’t really. The fact is that fake meat products rarely taste like meat in the first place. They taste like something (and are therefor an interesting alternative to tofu which is generally bland in taste), but usually not whatever “meat product” they are mimicking. A good example of this is fake bacon. When I did eat meat, I never liked bacon. Didn’t like the look or taste of it. It was grissly, fatty, and just plain gross. However, as a vegetarian I love fakin’ bacon. It’s crisp, smokey, and doesn’t have any of the weird tastes or textures I despised in regular bacon. That said, there are some products like chick patties which I’m told taste similar to actual chicken. Honestly, I never minded the taste as much as the texture (blood, bones, fat, etc. kinda creeped me out as a kid- go figure I should end up loving horror flicks!). I eat fake meat because I find it easy to use as a substitute and I enjoy the differences in textures. Fake meat can be used as easy substitutes for meals that have either a large to small “meat” component, or eaten alone. Lots of vegetarians and vegans don’t eat fake meat, for a variety of reasons (soy allergies, cost, or the taste itself). But for those who find themselves wanting an easy option, and don’t mind the idea of trying something new, I suggest giving fake meat a try.

Where can I buy it and what should I try?
I’ve spent a lot of time (and cash) on finding products I like, so I thought a small guide on fake meat might be worthwhile to those who don’t know where to begin. I’m going to cover the two big companies: Boca and Morningstar Farms, simply because they are the most available, although there are many, many other companies out there that I suggest you try! Many are small businesses working for a good cause! You can find them at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Rainbow Grocery, and your local vegetarian-friendly stores!

Product Reviews

Burgers – Both Morningstar Farms and Boca make a fake burger out of soy protein. Both burgers, in my opinion, do not taste like an actual burger. I personally do not like the flavor and rarely eat these “as is” inside a bun. However, ground up and used in a pasta sauce these bad boys work wonders. They are also a good substitute in other recipes which require ground such as tacos and burritos, especially if you spice them up a little. The “all american flame grilled” by Boca is a slightly more realistic option, but still fails to taste like much other than cooked soy. I have yet to try the garlic or onion versions. I do not recommend the cheese version which is gooey and a little unnatural tasting.


Fake Chicken Patties – Both companies also make a fake chicken patty. I prefer the Morningstar Farms variety which is thinner and therefor cookies crispier. The texture is also better, in my opinion. Morningstar also makes a spicy chick patty which is delicious served in a quesadilla with cheese or on a bun. I love working with chick patties because, although breaded, they are a very useful chick substitute and can be chopped up and sprinkled on anything to add a little texture and protein.


Breakfast Links – Morningstar was, I think, the first company to come out with the breakfast links and again I have to say I think they do it better. Boca’s links are a little more textured whereas Morninstars have a smooth surface that makes them easier to cook, and tastier in my opinion. These are great by themselves and if you HAVE to microwave them they still taste good, albeit not as tasty as if you pan fry them. Both companies also make breakfast / sausage patties if you have a preference for round food.


Fake Bacon – A lot of people complain about fake bacon, which is made by Morningstar Farms and a few other companies, but not Boca. The biggest complaint is the texture which is really not at all like real bacon. Fake bacon is very easy to overcook if you are looking for “crisp” bacon. I recommend cooking it until it is still bendable, just a little cooked, in order to get the best bacon. If you overcook it, the bacon will look and taste brickish. Cooked correctly, fake bacon is great for breakfast, in sandwiches and soups, or with ketchup as a snack (yup, you heard me).


Buffalo Wings – One of the weirder decisions Morningstar Farms made was to create a vegetarian version of Buffalo Wings- the meat eater’s mid-game pride and joy. Oddly enough, having never liked actual buffalo wings, I think these things are amazing. They are breaded and very spicy. You can heat them up in the microwave in just a couple minutes and have a great snack or light meal. They are delicious with ketchup or dipper in Vegannaise to cool them down. And if you can find a vegetarian barbecue sauce, then I say go for it.


Chicken Nuggets – Boca and MS went the way of bite-sized fake chick when they launched their line of chicken nuggets. The nuggets are breaded and contain soy chicken. Oddly enough, I don’t find them nearly as flavorful as the chick patties and usually avoid buying these unless I really need to add a protein-rich easy-as-hell snack to my shopping list. Pop them in the microwave for a few and devour them in minutes. They are a little bland, and ketchup is certainly a necessary accompaniment.


Ground “beef” – Again manufactured by both companies, I’ve never understood why people use the fake ground when cooking and scrambling whole boca or MS burgers is far more satisfying and tasty. Although buying the pre-ground stuff will save you some time, I’ve never liked cooking with it or enjoyed the taste, which is worse than the burgers.


Corn dogs – I never liked corn dogs until I tried these delicious cornbread encrusted veggie dogs by MS. Although the regular veggie dogs are pretty bland and a bit strange tasting, when covered in corn they are simply incredible tasting. Cook them in the oven (microwaves will leave you with a soggy dog) and dip in mustard and ketchup.


Hot dogs – Many companies have tried to may a veggie version of the hot dog, despite the fact that hot dogs are one of the most disgusting meat-on-meat creations known to man. But, the fact of the matter is, they are easy to make and a staple of the American diet so they are about as common in the vegetarian world as veggie burgers. I’ve tried a lot of veggie dogs, and I have to say I don’t like them. They taste a little strange and balloon and bubble if you try to cook them in the microwave, which means you have to cook them on the stove top which I think is more trouble than it’s worth for a hot dog. However, veggie dogs are magic when placed in a bun with some vegetarian chili and some onions. That way, you don’t taste the dog, just get the texture. Yum yum.

I know I left out a lot, so feel free to leave your opinions and reviews of veggie fake meat products in the comments!

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Intro to Gardenburger Burgers


What are Gardenburgers?
Gardenburgers are a mix of vegetables, grains, and sometimes soy protein. There are a lot of varieties out there, and you can even make your own at home if you’re feeling up to the challenge! As this was the only vegetarian option on most menus for several years (and still is in many restaurants), I, personally, am sick of the plain Gardenburger burger. Luckily, the company has been coming out with more and more inventive options that have rekindled my interest. Here are a few I’ve tried and my recommendations:

Portabella: Very good! Beefy, garden-variety burger with a fresh mushroom taste. Excellent with cheese and grilled onions on a hamburger bun.

Garden Vegan: Not my favorite of the bunch, but I know many who SWEAR by these. They have a veggie taste and are about as far tasting from a hamburger as you can get (which is a good thing if you hate the taste of hamburgers, as many vegetarians do). Obviously, vegan.

Black Bean Chipolte: I like the taste of these, but not the texture which is an uncomfortable mix of grains and beans. That said, these are really tasty on a bun with just a slice of lettuce and tomato if you’re looking for a quick meal with a southwestern flavor. Also vegan.

Sun Dried Tomato Basil: Tastes almost exactly like pizza. If you want a patty that tastes like pizza, this is your burger.

Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments!

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Fake Chicken Caesar Salad


Easiness: **
Greenness: Vegan / Vegetarian (depending on ingredients)

Ingredients:
1 head of romaine lettuce
Shredded parmesan cheese or vegan parmesan cheese
Caesar salad dressing not containing anchovies (Vegan Caesar dressings are also available)
1 “chick patty” (by Morningstar Farms, Boca, or other)
Olive oil or regular cooking oil

Materials: A medium-sized bowl, frying pan, stove

Step 1: Heat a small amount of oil (1 tablespoon) in a pan. Fry the chick patty on both sides until the bread crumbs are cooked and crispy.
Step 2: Cut the chick patty into bite-size pieces.
Step 3: Shred the romaine lettuce into strips.
Step 4: Toss everything into the medium-sized bowl and mix thoroughly with salad dressing.
Step 5: Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Based on a recipe from Saturn Cafe!

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Eggplant Parmesan


Easiness: ****
Greenness: Lacto-ovo vegetarian (can be made vegan by leaving out cheese or using vegan cheese / using olive oil instead of egg)

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant
1 can crushed tomatoes*
2 pinches oregano*
1 clove garlic diced into very small pieces*
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
(* you can substitute items 2-4 with your favorite marinara pasta sauce)
10 leaves fresh or dried basil (can be omitted)
Shredded mozzarella
Shredded parmesan
1 egg beaten
Bread crumbs

Materials:
Paper towels, colander, small mixing bowl or large salad bowl, oven or toaster oven, baking sheet / cookie sheet / tin foil, casserole-style deep baking pan / pie pan / bread pan

Directions:
Step 0: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Step 1: Slice the eggplant into rounds approx 1/4″ thick. Drizzle them with salt and lay them in a colander over a bowl (or paper towel) to drain them of their water. It will take them about 10 – 15 minutes for them to “sweat” out their moisture.
Step 2: If you are making your own sauce, combine the crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, diced garlic and oregano in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. (You can add other spices like powdered thyme if you feel the need). Mash the crushed tomatoes with a fork to make the mix thicker.
Step 3: Scrape the eggplant slices of the salt and press them between paper towels to remove the rest of the water.
Step 4: Dip each of the eggplant slices in egg and then in bread crumbs (on both sides). Put them on a cookie sheet and bake them for 5-10 minutes until slightly browned. (*This will also work in a toaster oven if you don’t have a conventional oven, though not as well!)
Step 5: Remove the slices from the oven. Layer some of the slices on the bottom of the baking pan. Cover them in sauce, then sprinkle them in cheese. Repeat to make a second layer of eggplant, sauce, and cheese. Cover the remaining layer in dried basil. If you are using fresh basil, do not place it on the dish at this time. See step 6!
Step 6: If you are using fresh basil, place the fresh basil leaves over the eggplant parmesan (on top of the cheese) after approx. half an hour- just before the eggplant parmesan is ready. Cook it for another couple minutes to get the basil to soften into the cheese.
Step 7: After 30-35 minutes, remove the eggplant parmesan from the oven. Serve in wedges (like brownies) with greens (spinach, asparagus or broccoli) or eat it alone!

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Top 10 Vegetarian Sandwiches

Sandwiches offer numerous options for vegetarians. They’re quick, satisfying, and easy to take on the go. Here are my top ten favorite sandwiches. Feel free to add your own in the comments section!

1. The Italian – Basil, pesto, tomato, and fresh mozzarella on a panini.
2. The Fakin’ BLT* – Fake bacon (Morningstar Farms, Boca, or other), mayonnaise or Vegannaise, lettuce, tomato on toasted white bread.
3. The Health Nut – Lettuce, tomato, red onion, brown mustard, avocado and herb (krauter) cheese sandwiched between two slices of multi-grain bread.
4. The Fruity Bagelwich – Tomato, cream cheese (or vegan cream cheese), red onion, sprouts, cucumber sandwiched on a toasted bagel.
5. The Healthy Wrap – Arugula, feta, red onion, tomato (drizzled in balsamic vinaigrette) wrapped in a large tortilla. An olive or cream cheese spread is optional.
6. The Croissantwich – Scrambled egg (or without egg for vegan), cheese (vegan cheese) toasted inside a croissant until melted.
7. The Parisian – Brie on a baguette. What more do you need?
8. The Fakin’ Melt – Cheese (or vegan cheese) with veggie salami, veggie ham, or veggie turkey melted in two toasted slices of white bread.
9. Egg Salad Sandwich – Just like mom used to make. Eggs, mayonnaise, and a pinch of brown mustard, a slice of lettuce between sandwich bread.
10. Falafel Sandwich – Falafel, hummus, tomato, onion, and lettuce serviced in a pita. Falafels are very easy to make using mix from the store! And they keep a long time / make great snacks!

*Based on the fakin’ BLT from

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Starting Out: Getting to Know Tofu

My Initial Struggle With Tofu

When I first became a vegetarian, all I knew about tofu was that vegetarians ate it, a lot of it, or so I thought. I had never tried it before, didn’t know what to do with it, and was a bit surprised when I brought home my first package of silken style tofu, tried to pan fry it, and ended up with a weird half-burnt lumpy mush that was a far cry from anything edible. I decided I needed help. After hunting around online for advice, I became overwhelmed with information and differing opinions on how to work with my new soy curd friend. Some suggested freezing it, others deep frying, and still others recommended draining the liquid using cheese cloth. This sounded like an awful lot of work for someone who was new to cooking, and I quickly decided I would just have to make due without tofu.

I didn’t touch tofu outside of restaurants again until six years later when I moved to Daegu, South Korea and took a Buddhist vegan cooking course from a friend. The recipes were based off the same fundamental ingredients the monks used in temple cooking, including very simple, traditional items such as lotus root, seaweed and tofu. I recognized the silken tofu as soon as she brought it out, and explained in blatant terms my last embarrassing experience with the stuff. She laughed when I got to the part about the frying pan. “Fry? You tried to fry this? But this is silken tofu!” She said, smiling. She then explained to me that there are a few different types of tofu, and that tofu can be used in a variety of ways as either a meat substitute or a protein-rich addition, but that it is important to select the right kind of tofu based on what you want to do with it. I will now pass on the very valuable advice she gave me which helped me to overcome my fear of bean curd and starting cooking some top-notch food using tofu.

Types of Tofu

Silken Tofu is a very soft form of tofu that is has the consistency of flan or custard. It is (generally speaking) best used uncooked and can be added to salads, or eaten by itself with a light dressing or soy, seaweed flakes and pepper (a popular dish in Korea and Japan.)

Soft Tofu varies from silken tofu in that it is more condensed and less custard like. It is thicker and firmer, can be cooked but is also excellent in soups and stews uncooked. Normally we want to use soft tofu in recipes where we want a very soft texture similar to how tofu tastes naturally. This kind of tofu is excellent for marinating and eating raw, but flavored.

Firm Tofu is the sort of tofu we generally want to put in the frying pan, deep fryer, or oven. This kind of tofu is an excellent meat substitute and when drained of water and cooked often has a texture that goes nicely in dishes as varied as mexican recipes, soups, stir frys, and scrambles. There are a few ways to prepare and cook firm tofu. The cheese cloth method I first learned about can certinaly be used to drain the water out of tofu, but so can paper towels, simple pan frying (cut the tofu into 1/2″ thin strips and press down on the tofu with your spatula to help squeeze out the moisture), or deep frying (you’ll want to squeeze some of the water out before doing this using the paper towel / cheese cloth method). Sometimes firm tofu is subdivided into medium, firm, or extra-firm tofu. You’ll want to select the option that is best suited for the meal you are preparing- extra firm for very hard textures and medium for softer textures.

Dried Tofu / Pre-cooked Tofu Many stores carry pre-cooked or dried tofu which does not require much preparation. You can recognize this kind of tofu by its golden brown color (the other two kinds of tofu will be white). Unlike the other kinds of tofu, this sort of tofu will not be prepackaged in water. Usually pre-cooked tofu has a skin that is rough and thick. The inside is tender just like normal firm tofu. It can be eaten by itself with a marinade (sometimes this is already included with the tofu) or used in salads, pastas, or scrambles. You’ll probably need to experiment with these a bit before you find the “right” tofu for your recipes as pre-cooked tofu varies greatly in terms of consistency.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tofu

How do you store tofu?

For long-term storage, tofu can be placed in the freezer for up to 4 or 5 months. Once opened and sliced, depending on the size, tofu can become difficult to store and keep because it is a perishible product that requires water to retain moisture and prevent spoilage. The best way to keep tofu is uncut and in as big a “block” as possible. Put the block in a air-tight plastic container filled with water (up to the height of the tofu block). Re-fill the water every day to ensure the tofu stays moisturized and fresh. If the water is changed every day, the tofu can last several days, up to 5 days.

How long does tofu take to go bad?

If stored unopened and in the freezer, tofu can last up to 5 months after the date of purchase. It is important to keep an eye on the expiration date, of course, and only to open the tofu directly before you intend to use it. For opened and re-stored tofu (placed in the fridge and in water), re-freshing the water daily can allow it to keep up to 5 days. If stored as left overs, it is best to eat as soon as possible as spoilage will depend on the other items included in the recipe.

How can you cook tofu?

Tofu can be eaten raw with or without a sauce or marinade. It can be cut up and placed in soups (soft tofu is recommended for this). It cake be over-baked, pan-friend, or deep-fried. There are a number of recipes in this blog that show you how to use tofu. Click the “tofu” tag for a list of recipes, or use the search function.

Where can I find tofu?

Tofu can be found in many supermarkets in the vegetables section. It is usually located next to the organic greens and fresh dressings. Asian and oriental markets are a great resource for different kinds of tofu. Vegetarian and organic grocers will generally carry tofu.

Can I freeze tofu?

Yes. Freezing tofu is a common long-term solution to tofu storage. Tofu can be frozen up to 5 months after the date of purchase, depending on the expiry date and temperature. It can later be defrosted for immediate use.

How much tofu should I eat?

This is a question that has been debated by nutritionists for quite some time. One thing to be aware of is that soy allergies are very common, so it is important to go slow when adding tofu to your diet. Try one meal a week and work up to adding more if things go okay. If you notice any sort of allergic reaction, stop and if necessary consult your doctor. Another important thing to consider is your general nutritional and dietary needs. Tofu, unfermented, is a whole protein. The amount of protein the average person needs will vary based on their size and activity level, not to mention general metabolic makeup. That said, here’s a calculator that may help give a general idea of your protein needs. 100 grams of firm tofu contains about 11.5 grams of soy protein. It is important to get enough protein in your diet as protein is essential for maintaining bodily health. That said, many doctors believe having too much protein may put pressure on your kidneys or other organs and all nutritionists agree that eating too much of one thing is never a good idea, generally speaking. It is best to use your judgment as to how much tofu you should or shouldn’t eat, but don’t feel like you have to use tofu in every meal in order to meet your protein requirement. There are lots of sources of protein out there aside from tofu, and it is important to maintain a balanced diet not just for your health, but for your palate!

LINKS:

How to eat tofu without really trying
Wikipedia explains everything about tofu you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask
Soy Vey! Should you eat it or not?
Protein calculator
Preparing and Cooking With Tofu

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