Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Grandma's Beet Relish

I don't know where this recipe originally came from, but I have a copy my mother hand wrote on an index card. It's a recipe index card, which says:

RECIPE: Beet Relish
From the Kitchen of: Grandma Swingle

2 c. coarsely grated beets (cooked)

2 tbsp chopped red onion

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp sugar

2 tbsp dijon mustard

3 tbsp veggie oil

salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and blend well. Chill thoroughly.

This is a great side dish - it seems to go with everything and adds that beautiful magenta color to your plate. It's tangy, with the underlying sweetness of the beets and that dab of sugar.

As far as the beets go, I prefer to roast them before grating. I usually cut them in half and place them cut side down on a baking sheet lined with tin foil and stick it in the oven for as long as it takes. I'd say 400 degrees or so. Let them cool and the skins should peel right off. Consider gloves or you'll end up with pink fingers. I always do.

End up with pink fingers.

Tofu Overdose

That's what I googled to try to come up with some information on soy protein. Not that I actually think such a thing is possible. Not in the way one od's on, say, heroin or whatever else the kids are doing these days, but I have a suspicion of mono-anything. Like monocropping or monocracy or monogamy. All potentially fraught. Everything needs a little variety. One way or another.

Don't you think?

Especially one's diet. I know that in certain cultures in certain climates, people live on nothing but fish for the majority of the year, but I believe that in general, in the world most of us reading blogs on the interweb inhabit, our most healthful option is to maintain a diet that is varied. This means getting vitamins, minerals, fats (yes, fats), protein and whatall from several sources. Several sources each. One of the things that most concerned me, going into this vegan thing, was the soy problem.

Soy has become damn hip. At the coffee shop I work at, we've gone from ordering two cases of soymilk a week to three. And we still run out. I've noticed in a sort of non-scientific way that I'm reaching for the soy way more often then I was even six months ago. I've noticed that some of my regulars have switched from skim to soy. Why?

I mean, they're not vegan. I doubt it has anything to do with food politics. Why is this happening? What do they think they're doing? What's the draw?

Is it all about health?

I've been drinking soymilk for years. At the beginning, it was because of the candy goodness of vanilla soy, but now that I've gotten over the adult joys of eating brownies for breakfast, it's just because I think milk is a little icky. Personal ish. So I already keep it around the house for my coffee or randomly in baked goods, to drink with cookies, on cereal. Etc. I knew that going vegan would up my tofu intake – since every time I drop cheese partially from my diet, that's what happens – and on top of that, there are about a thousand other soy protein items that are pushed on vegetarians and vegans for the sake of meat-y-ness. Boca burgers, TVP, soy yogurt, Fakin-bacon. All soy based. Even if you don't abide by fakery, you still can't avoid it. It's in all kinds of “normal” processed foods, too. One's that are marketed to you and yourself and everyone you know.

It's like this: normally, I would put buttermilk on my oatmeal, but now it's soy milk. Normally, I take yogurt with me for breakfast when I work early, but now it's soy yogurt. Normally, I eat grilled cheese and put butter in my cookies and feta in my stuffed peppers, but now it's baked tofu, silken tofu, soft tofu. Normally, I buy about two blocks of tofu a month. Now it's what? Five? Six?

So what I'm getting at is simply that I am eating significantly more soy. And. And I noticed I was feeling funny. My stomach was bothering me. Not like nauseous but more like . . . just strange. Off. Sort of like the idea of cramps, but not cramps-actual. A hollow sort of full feeling. And I wondered if it had anything to do with all the soy.

Now I don't have anything particularly smart to say about this. I've done a little research via the internet, and a friend who is studying to be a nutritionist, and perhaps unsurprisingly, results are mixed and often contradictory. Tofu is both super heart healthy and maybe not. It could both reduce the likelihood of breast cancer in women, and "one hundred grams of soy baby formula has approximately the same amount of oestrogen as a contraceptive pill," which seems maybe like a bad thing. Soy is the most complete protein of the legume family, and in its unfermented state it hinders absorption of minerals and inhibits the digestion of . . . protein!?


I bring all this up not to say something conclusive, but rather because I noticed it and if one has been vegan for a while, or is intent on veganism for more philosophical reasons, one might not notice it. I'm clearly not a nutritionist or a food scientist. Just your everyday snobetarian. But I'm also not the soy industry and I don't have any particular agenda here. I think it's interesting to consider this aspect of veganism. It's hard enough to eat a variety of things if you're not vegan, especially if you don't cook, and putting this kind of obstruction on your diet only further complicates the diet variety matter. Like my nutritionist friends says, “In my personal philosophy I believe in a balanced diet. I wouldn't recommend a vegan diet to a client but if they wanted to be on a vegan diet I would tell them how to do it safely. I wouldn't discourage something they wanted to do. Anyways, because the B12 and vitamin D is low in a vegan diet and because the fiber content makes absorption more difficult and protein requirements are harder to fill it can be less safe especially if people aren't eating enough nutrient dense foods.”

In other words, this is a tricky business. There are all kinds of things that could be causing my tummy to feel funny. My carb intake is also up – maybe more on this – and who knows if I'm actually eating as much as I usually do. But while soy has had a lot of great press, it could be a part of my problem, too. It's not a health "panacea", nor is it a vegan panacea. It's just part of ye olde balanced diet. And I wonder if anyone else has anything to say about this.

(Not to mention the monocropping again. If we're all eating so much soy, where's it coming from do you think? If we're worried about the environment and de-rainforestization and the farming industrial complex...why are we purchasing the hell out of soy products? Especially you vegans. I mean, isn't that part of your reasoning? Isn't it partly about some environmental political philosophy? Isn't it? Or is that just me.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Scrambled Tofu

This is a "How it All Vegan" recipe that I have mildly modified and kinda can't get enough of. I don't eat eggs all that much normally, but once and a while I want a really solid salty breakfast - like not oatmeal - like say the I'm-really-hung-over breakfast, but something more than toast. That's where eggs would generally come in.

These fake scrambled eggs satisfy all of my snobetarian vegan clauses - good taste, good looking, no fakery. And they're super easy. And if you're like me and you have no real sense of how much of spice you're wont to go through in any period of time and you have a gianormous bag of tumeric that you've had since 2005, doubly perfect.

Scrambled Eggless Eggs

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 pkg firm tofu, crumbled

1/2 tsp tumeric

1/8 tsp cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne

2 tbsp Braggs

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. When hot add the onions and garlic and saute on medium-high until onions are translucent.
  2. Add tofu, tumeric, cumin and Braggs and mix together. Saute on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until moisture has evaporated and tofu is lightly seared on one side.
  3. Serve.
Whenever I'm frying or sauteing tofu, I like to wrap it in a towel and press some of the moisture out of it beforehand. This is really helpful when you're frying-frying, because, as you know, water and oil don't mix, and if the tofu is super wet still it will spit hot oil all over you. In this case it just expedites the second part of step 2.

I also up the spices in this a little. Probably not by 2x, but maybe by an extra half of the original measurement. Except for the cayenne, which isn't in the original recipe, so that's my true to snobetarian self measurement. If you don't like spicy, feel free to pass it up.

I brought this to a very non-vegan brunch today and it was a pretty big hit all around. Went especially well with our pan-fried hash browns.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Vegan Sloppy Joes

This might sound like fakery but aha!

You are wrong.

Or maybe you're not wrong, but we're working with my rules and re: the substance-not-flavored-to-taste-like-meat clause, TVP is not fakery.

Textured vegetable protein is in the same category as tofu, as far as I'm concerned. It's mostly its own thing and doesn' t have a lot of wacky Jersey factory ingredients. Just a particular texture. I still don't use it much, but for some reason I'm all over the veggie sloppy joes. Maybe because the real ones always seemed disgustingly fascinating. Something we didn't do in my fam. I have never had one, but I no longer feel I'm missing out.

So I have to admit, I didn't really measure this as I was making it. I always do it to taste, and unlike my hummus, it pretty much always comes out the same. I have guesstimated measurements for the second half of the ingredients - tomato on - so start under and work up to the amount, and then over if that seems necessary. Trust your taste. This one is pretty true to flavor.

Vegan Sloppy Joes

olive oil

1 med onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 serranos chilies, minced

1 carrot, grated

1 portabella, chopped

1 cup (dry) TVP, re-hydrated

1 cup canned tomato and juice, chopped

2 tbsp Bragg's

2 tbsp molasses

½ cup ketchup

salt to taste

  1. Heat approx. 2 tbsp olive oil over med-high heat in a large heavy duty skillet. I use my cast iron.

  2. When hot, add the onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and chilies and stir for another minute. When fragrant, add tomato, Bragg's, molasses and ketchup.

  3. Taste; adjust.

  4. Add TVP, carrot, portabella and salt. Stir until thoroughly mixed and bring to a simmer. Turn down heat and simmer for 10-15 min.

  5. Taste; adjust.

Good luck!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vegan Mix Brownies!

When I was 21 I spent a year living in Boston. Rather than finishing up my last year at Tufts, I was working at a gourmet food shop and waiting to hear about my app to transfer into an agricultural program at Cornell. There were 7 of us in that house and we had a sort of veggie coop set up. Every week two people were on shopping duty, and we bought our food collectively and informally cooked for each other here and there. It worked pretty well. In fact, it was one of the best living situations I've ever stumbled into.

One of our small glitches was that two us were vegan while the rest were not. This meant that often things had to become vegan that ordinarily wouldn't have been. To be fair. Communal food.

For example: mix brownies.

I think I mentioned earlier that I freakin love brownies from a mix. Probably because my mother never made them when I was a kid. Everything we baked was from scratch, so mix brownies were pure magical sweetness.

And surprisingly, in and of themselves, often vegan.

Of course, they have a lot of other nonsense in them, but there are worse things. At least no corn syrup, right?

Here's what you do:

Instead of the

1 egg (for chewy ones, the way I like)
1/3 c. water and
1/3 c. veggie oil

that the kind I usually get – Duncan Hinse Chocolate Lover's – calls for, I use

3 tbsp. applesauce
1/3 c. water and
1/3 c. silken tofu (blended smooth).

Now you've cut the oil and the egg, but certainly not the sugar.

Simple Hummus

I have hummus recipe ish. (That's short for 'issue,' btw.) I can't find one I like. The hummus recipe in “How it All Vegan” is like a lot of the ones I have problems with: too complicated. Too many things in there. I think there's one in my “Vegetarian for Everyone” book that's pretty basic, but something about it bugs me, although I can't remember what. I haven't made in a while, though, ostensibly for that reason.

Or I'm just lazy. I hate opening a cook book for something I should just be able to throw together to taste. Something where all the ingredients end up in a food processor.

The problem then becomes my inability to repeat past combos. My hummus comes out different every time. This is fine, but it would be nice, once and a while, to have expectations and then to meet them.

So this time I measured. And I didn't accidentally put too much salt.

Plain Jane Hummus

½ c. tahini

½ cup olive oil (plus some for drizzle)

¼ c. fresh lemon juice

4+ cloves roasted garlic

1 15 oz. can chickpeas

approx. ¼ c. chickpea juice or water

salt to taste


  1. In a food processor or blender, combine tahini, olive oil, lemon juice garlic and some salt (about ¼ tsp?) until smooth.

  2. Add chickpeas and liquid some at a time until all chickpeas are incorporated and hummus is the consistency you desire.

  3. Adjust salt.

  4. Scoop into dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with paprika and serve.

This is a pretty mild hummus. Like a base hummus. Feel free to up the lemon juice or garlic, or to add a little cumin (½ – 1 tsp?) to taste. I prefer roasted garlic to regular because I cannot control fresh garlic. The flavor deepens as it sits, and every time I use the fresh stuff the hummus comes out two steps away from purely medicinal. I mean, I like garlic, but come on. Roasting the garlic mellows it out a little, but if you don't keep it around - I generally try to roast a couple bulbs every so often and just keep them in a tupperware in the fridge – fresh will do. Just start fewer and taste as you go.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Other Butter Option 3: Avacado

This is the simplest, least concocted option I've got.

An avocado.

For the right consistency, make sure your avocado is nice and ripe. You can tell by squeezing it gently (not too hard or it will bruise). If it gives, it's ripe. The more it gives, the riper it is. There is a limit to this - ripe can quickly become rotten, so keep an eye on your avocados. I keep mine on the counter until they're ripe, and then if I'm not ready to eat them, I stick them in the fridge to keep them from going bad in, like, a day. Also, if you're purchasing Hass avocados, the small, pear-shaped, pebbly skinned variety that most grocery stores carry, the skin darkens from green to near black as the avocado ripens.

Then all you have to do is open it up and scoup out some of the flesh and spread. Sprinkle with salt and there you are! Green butter! Amazing!

Avacados are also similar to marmite in their vegan-friendly healthinesses. They are relatively high in fat, but it's the monosaturated kind - the good kind - and have apparently been shown to reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol (which we all know isn't just neutral but actually good for us) when eaten regularly. Among other things, they are high in B vitamins, potassiam and fiber. And they kind of look like dinosaur eggs.

Other Butter Option 2: Tofu Butter?

This is based off of a recipe in "How it All Vegan" for a really basic butter-like spread. All I've done is add roasted garlic. I'm not saying this is the best thing I've ever had, and it is 100% not butter, but it looks a little like butter (I think this is what the cookbook was mostly going for) and it's got the salt. I added the roasted garlic because it still tasted too much like tofu to me. I also upped the salt from "a pinch" to an actual amount.

The garlic makes a big difference, although it takes away from the butter-like simplicity that we're going for.

Biggest complaint? The texture. It has the gelatinous quality of silken tofu. This doesn't come across so much once you've spread it, but it makes me feel a little funny in my tummy when I stick my knife intp the container and the whole thing quivers like some half-dead sea creature.

But anyway. My toast is no longer dry.

Easy Veggie Butter

3/4 c. soft tofu

2 tbsp. flax oil or olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

3-4 cloves roasted garlic

dash of tumeric

In a blender, blend all ingredients together until well mixed.

Annnd done.

I used half and half on the oil, for the olive oil flavor and the flax good-for-you-ness.