I have a big moleskine notebook where I messily jot down things I want to create in the kitchen: ideas I have for combining whole foods to get a certain effect, flavour combinations, sticky notes with ambiguous notation, restaurant dishes I want to have at home, simple techniques with big results that I want to share with you, and the like. Some of it is blog fuel in the form of (vegan, grain + legume-based faux) chicken scratch, but most of it I’ve filed away for future use. I’ve always, always had plans and strategies for an intentional career in food hidden away, and then I shy away from it all, thinking it’s too big, too much right now. What if I had to quit my job to really do it right? What if things don’t go according to plan? What if there are very real financial repercussions? What if my life changes course?
I think if something has you asking “What if?” with excited/nervous/scared shitless undertones, and with increased frequency as well, the timing may be just right. Another step towards focusing up and unlearning the fear that it can’t be done: the new cookbook from the Green Kitchen Stories crew arrived at my door about a month ago. Just looking at the cover of Green Kitchen Travels stirred up inspiration on the visceral level for me. There are beautiful photographs of food, yes, but also captures of the worldly places that inspired each dish. I always say that a good cookbook should take you somewhere, whether it’s a new frame of awareness with food, or the photographs and voice have the ability to transport you in as much as possible. This one accomplishes both handily. There’s nothing about it that I don’t love.
I was deciding what recipe I would share with you all here when I realized I had cleared out almost all of my vegetable garden, save for two slowly yellowing eggplant stalks and some greens. I flipped to the “Street Food & Snacks” section of the book and knew I had to have these crispy eggplant bites with honey and lime. Addictive is the only adjective you need to know, but here are some others: crunchy, salty, sweet, tender, and fresh. Everything I’ve ever wanted in a snack and they couldn’t have been simpler to throw together. I used some rather coarse polenta and the degree of crunch was so crazy satisfying. Drizzles of honey and fresh lime juice right out of the oven are just too good. They taste convincingly deep fried. ‘Nuff said.
Other things from the book I’m excited to try: vegetarian pho, halloumi veggie burgers, ribollita, lemongrass and coconut summer rolls, no-noodle pad thai, almond butter blueberry cookies, the green yoga smoothie, and the chermoula baked cauliflower. Lots of things to turn the wheels no matter what level you’re at with whole food + vegetarian adventures. You can buy it here (and you should seriously). One little quick note before I go too: I made some soft-baked style pumpkin cookies with tangy cream-cheesy glaze for BAKED this week. You can check that out by clicking here. Weeee!
crispy eggplant polenta bites with honey + lime
from Green Kitchen Travels
notes: I think these would be equally good with a fat pinch of nutritional yeast stirred into the polenta mixture and a little warm marinara for dippin’, just an idea though! ;););)
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch batons/wedges
3-4 cups unsweetened plant-based milk
1-2 cups organic, non-GMO corn grits/polenta (I used this one)
a fat pinch of fine sea salt
zest of 1 lime (once you have the zest, cut the lime into wedges)
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
runny honey or agave nectar if you’d like to keep these vegan
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and smear a bit of olive oil on it. Set aside.
Place the eggplant pieces in a large bowl and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Cover the pieces with the plant-based milk. Let the eggplant sit for an hour so that the bitterness can draw out.
Pour the corn grits/polenta into a shallow dish. Stir a good pinch of salt into the polenta. Arrange the soaked eggplant, dish of polenta, and lined baking sheet beside each other. Shake off excess milk from eggplant pieces and roll/press them in the polenta. Transfer coated pieces to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining eggplant. Drizzle the coated pieces with olive oil and slide the sheet into the oven.
Bake eggplant bites for 15-25 minutes, flipping them over once. Mine took the full 25 minutes, but I think this varies greatly on the actual eggplant and hotspots in your oven. Once done, remove from the oven and sprinkle bites with lemon zest, flaky sea salt, honey and lime juice. Serve hot!
So I spent the last weekend at my first ever blogger conference-type thingy in Pennsylvania with some funny, passionate, smart, and encouraging people. Lots of hugs, smiles, introductions, inspirational messages, and totally delicious things to eat. I think it’s possible (and totally normal) to be an introverted extrovert, and being in that environment of brand new, but also strikingly familiar instances brought out that personal conundrum all the more for me. I like to be loud and make crude jokes with lots of swears. But I also like to step into my fortress of solitude and parse out some of the bigger messages when I’m in the thick of it. Or just wander off into nature a bit. I think we all have a little bit of that duality.
After the conference, my road trip partner and I took a drive to Philadelphia to meet and stay with a friend of ours. We had less than 24 hours, but that didn’t stop us from having three sit-down meals (most notably here), two drink outings, and one bangin’ almond milk latte before we left. It was the perfect, quietly familiar ending to a high-energy, ecstatically social weekend. Some blog-related topics like sponsorship came up with the three of us, and before I even realized it, I was saying things like “Why not me?” + “I wish I could be doing stuff like that.” The comparison thing finds its way in sometimes, even when you’re hopelessly aloof on most days. And then my racing mind couldn’t sleep that night. I was a bit distracted on the long drive home, thinking about what I’ve been doing wrong.
The upshot of this inner back-and-forth is that I’m not doing anything wrong. The whole weekend was glaring proof of how mistaken I was, however briefly. The heart of the blogging adventure for me has always been connection and a slow refinement of my own skill set. I get to connect with so many interesting people every week here, and we talk about natural foods, new techniques, flavour combinations that excite us, intuitions and feelings we’ve all had, and some of the more trying bits in life.
When I got home and noticed that the hood of my ever-problematic car was smoking after a drive around the block, and that the only fresh food we had in the fridge was a sad-sack head of cauliflower, I stopped caring about the “Why not me?” question. I had dinner to make and real-life problems to solve. I know that all of you can relate to that on some level, which is a potent reminder of some of my business here. We get to connect over the abundantly good and the endlessly frustrating spaces of life. Sometimes it’s just a legitimate recipe and sometimes it’s a real-life revelation disguised as a list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions. Either way, that connection is at the heart.
And this one-pot number? This is what I made for dinner that night with the smoking car and the limp-y cauliflower. Deep-nourishing and relatively quick comfort. It’s a pantry-raid effort that I recreate in some form almost weekly. There’s lots of vegetables, spice, stew-y tomato richness, tender greens, and the heft of chickpeas to fill it out. I know I’ve featured a couple stews/soups similar to this in the past, but with the frequency that I make this on my mind, it just felt right to share. Stay cozy out there, all. xo
cauliflower, kale + chickpea curry pot recipe
notes: The amount of vegetable stock depends on how thick/thinned out you want this. I went for something in between :)
1-2 tbsp unscented coconut oil
1 cooking onion, small dice
1 tbsp curry powder
2 fresh bay laves (or 1 dried)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp minced fresh ginger (optional!)
small jalapeno or cayenne pepper, seeded + minced
1 cup 1/2 inch diced waxy potatoes
2-3 cups small cauliflower florets
28 oz can crushed tomatoes (fire roasted is my fave)
1-2 cups vegetable stock, depending
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 bunch lacinato/Tuscan kale, stems removed and chopped
salt + pepper
chopped leafy herbs to finish (parsley, cilantro etc)
Heat the coconut oil in a heavy + large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, lowering heat if necessary. Cook until very soft, translucent and almost breaking down, about 6-7 minutes. Add the curry powder and bay leaves, and cook, stirring often, for 3 more minutes. Add the garlic, ginger (if using), and jalapeno to the pot. Stir and cook until fragrant, constantly stirring to avoid burning the garlic.
Add the potatoes and cauliflower to the pot and stir. Season with lots of salt and pepper. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pot and stir once more. At this point, add 1 cup of vegetable stock (you may want to add more later). Stir the pot, place a lid on top, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat on the stove to a simmer and remove the lid. Cook until the potatoes are just-tender, about 40 minutes. Add the chickpeas and diced kale,, and simmer for 5 more minutes or until greens have wilted.
Check the curry pot for seasoning, adjust, and serve hot with bread, naan, cooked brown rice, quinoa, millet etc. Garnish with chopped leafy herbs.
On the surface, this glow-y orange business is a trashier outing than we’re all used to here, but a craving’s a craving and OOOOH. Em. Gee. This one turned out pretty great. The “queso” itself is bonafide wholesome–the application of it determines the trash factor for real. The first thing you have to do when you fix up a vegan nacho cheese-y situation, is let go of any pre-conceived notions/misguided hopes that your creation will taste like a vat of dairy thickened with that good old butter (more dairy) + white flour roux. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but taking vegetables and health food staples, but then also hoping for cheese is very bad math.
I’ve had entirely cashew-based versions of vegan nacho cheese before and loved it every time, but I do find it rich. A cashew-based anything is really tasty, but the fattiness sometimes makes for a flat-seeming overall flavour. Then I thought of butternut squash pasta sauce and how naturally creamy it is (and also how undeniably orange it is). And then I went into the backyard to check on my gnarly and twisted up butternut vines. The little squashes still aren’t ready, but they are steadily making a fine mess in a hidden corner of my vegetable garden. I wound up buying one at the store solely for this purpose. So!
My point with hippie nacho cheese-making: it can’t just be all the fatty and rich plant-based things blended together. People obsess over cheese because of umami characteristics (among other reasons)–the fifth taste that hints at a crucial presence of sneaky-satisfying glutamates in foods. It’s pleasantly savoury in a way that may not be immediately apparent. Also, addicting. Before you even begin to replicate a food like queso with vegan considerations, you’ve got to strategize on how to make it really work. It’s key to remember that all-out replication might not be an appropriate end goal. I was just aiming for a squash-y, lightly cheese-y and spicy sauce to eat with nachos (a woman can dream, right?).
I roast the butternut squash to get some caramelization, but not too much. You need the moisture for a lush consistency. I sauté shallots and jalapeño down to almost paste-like consistency, just to fully develop the sugars in the shallots and to tame the bite of the jalapeño. Then I went in with some of my pantry stock, more specifically items that had natural umami qualities: tamari, miso, and dijon mustard. These add-ins help to strike out the predominantly sweet flavour of the squash. The broth I used to thin the mixture was rich with shiiitake mushrooms–another savoury pal of ours. The nutritional yeast is the more obviously cheese-y flavoured (+ Vitamin B12-rich) component. If you’re hesitant to buy it only for this, I urge you to try it sprinkled and mashed into avocado toast. A final addition of finely minced pickled jalapeños really balanced everything out for me.
From here, you can go all trashy nacho with the salty toppings and beer like me (salt yaaaay) (but also, I used cilantro flowers so maybe this is more delicately refined than I had previously thought?!), or you could sensibly pour it over some roasted vegetables and brown rice, or something. I’m trying leftovers on roasted cauliflower tomorrow. Anyway, I’m on my way to a food blogger event and a much-needed break in Pennsylvania this week. Catch ya on the Instagrams + big, cheese-y love to you all :)
OMG-vegan butternut queso recipe
serves: makes about 3-ish cups
notes: All the little add-ins like dijon, garlic, cumin, and hot pepper can easily be adjusted for quantities that suit your taste–I did a lot of adjusting and re-blending before I got mine the way I wanted it. Just make sure you salt the mix adequately and deeefinitely use the nutritional yeast, babes ;) Also, a hot tip if you forget to soak the nuts/seeds: simmer them in a small pot of water for 10 minutes to speed up the softening.
1 small butternut squash
salt + pepper
1 large shallot, fine dice
1 jalapeño, fine dice (use seeds if you like it hot)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup of raw cashews/pine nuts/ sunflower seeds, soaked for at least 2 hours
2 cloves of garlic, peeled + rough chopped
1 1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp tamari soy sauce
1/2 tsp light miso
vegetable stock (to get the blender going)
squeeze of lime juice OR splash of pickled jalapeño brine
1/4 cup minced pickled jalapeños
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Cut the squash down the middle, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Rub the flesh of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place squash halves, cut side down, onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Slide the tray into the oven and roast until squash is tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes. Let squash cool slightly.
While squash roasts, heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Pour a good bit of oil into the pan and add the diced shallots. Stir them about and cook until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the diced jalapeno and cumin to the pan and stir. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are very soft and have taken on a sort of dry-paste consistency, about 7-10 minutes, lowering heat if necessary. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Scoop the cooked squash flesh into a blender pitcher. Discard squash peels. To the blender, add the soaked nuts/seeds, garlic, nutritional yeast, dijon, tamari, miso, a tablespoon or so of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add enough vegetable stock to the blender to get everything moving. Gradually bring the blender speed to high and blend the mixture until you have a smooth purée. If you need to add more stock at this point, also make sure to add another little splash of olive oil as well (this helps with the lush texture). Add the sauteed mixture of shallots and jalapeno to the blender and blend mixture until smooth again. Taste the queso at this point and re-season, add lime juice/jalapeno brine etc. to your liking. You can also add vegetable stock/more olive oil to achieve your desired viscosity.
To serve, heat the queso in a small saucepan over medium. Once you get some bubbles coming through, serve it up nacho-style, over roasted vegetables, with pasta, or any other way you can dream up.
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