Friday, September 27, 2013

Vegan Fondue

First, I should say that this is not my creation.

I should also mention that I've even blogged about this before.

But since this is the Vegan Month of Food and because I told myself I really need to post thirty posts in thirty days, aaaaand because I will be out of town this weekend and will likely not post until Monday, I am going to repeat myself.

I can't believe this recipe is not 'a thing', plastered on veg blogs across the land. It's so easy to make, really really, really tasty, and impressive without any faux or processed foods.

Vegan Fondue! Need I really say more?


  • 3 tbsp margarine + 2 tbsp
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • vegetarian bouillon cube or 1 tbsp dry veggie broth mix
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups soy milk
  • 1/2 tsp miso
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)


Sautee garlic, onions and mushrooms in 3 tbsp margarine until soft. In separate saucepan, combine remaining ingredients and simmer until mixture thickens. If your mixture does not thicken, add more flour and mix well. Allow to cool.
Add mushrooms, garlic and onion mix to the soy milk mix and process in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Reheat the blended mix, stirring occasionally, and allow to cool slightly before transferring to fondue pot, or just serve piping hot with a spoon from a bowl to drizzle over
Fresh French Bread,
A Plate of Seitanroni, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, and Veggie Bean Loaf
under Tofu Patties w/ Sauteed 'Shrooms and Fresh Clover Sprouts
mix with your favorite red sauce to top Gnocchi,
or, you know, eat that stuff with a spoon! It's that good!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Vegan Back Bean Taco Soup (Taco Soup for Taco Thursday!)

So, it's not Tuesday, and this blog post is not about tacos. Using that criteria, my 'Taco Tuesday' theme for this Vegan Month of Food is a fail...but stay with me.

Maybe I watch too much Top Chef. Maybe I just want to use my shiny, new Vitamix for every possible meal to justify it's very existence in my tiny kitchen. Maybe, because we'll be out of town this weekend I want to use what I have left in the refrigerator in a way that will freeze well and make for an easy start to the week once we return. Maybe all of the above. Yeah, definitely all of the above.

I totally went to bed last night, planning today's post, smiling to myself at how fun it would be, how clever to do 'Deconstructed Black Bean Tacos' for Taco Thursday. Maybe that's not clever at all and I'm just lazy.

Black Bean Taco Soup!
  Either way, I give you Deconstructed Black Bean Tacos. All of the elements, textures and flavors you want on taco night without having to pick all of the various parts that have fallen out up off your plate. Just think of them as tacos you can eat....with a spoon!

Or just call them...

Vegan Black Bean (Taco!) Soup
makes 4 large or 6 small bowls of soup
adapted from the Vitamix website recipe

for garnish:
1 c. green cabbage, sliced very thin
1/4 c. green onions, sliced very thin
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1-2 tsp lime juice

for soup:
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed, half reserved
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I remove and discard skins), half reserved
3 c. vegetable stock (I dissolve 1 1/2 veggie bullion in 3 c water)
1/2 c. onion, chopped and sauteed
3 garlic cloves, chopped and sauteed
2 T lime juice*
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1/2 T tomato paste
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp vegan Worcestershire
1/2 - 1 tsp chili powder (I used Tony Chachere's Creole Original Seasoning)
1/4 c. red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/4 c green onion, chopped
salt, to taste
vegan bacon, crumbled (optional)

Prep garnish:
In a medium bowl, toss sliced cabbage (the thinner, the better) and green onion with lime juice and cilantro. Set aside.

Saute onions and garlic:
Heat skillet on medium heat. Add onions and garlic, pinch of salt, and enough water to allow them to simmer and become translucent but not burn (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat.

Make soup in blender:
Place veggie stock, black beans, chickpeas, onion and garlic, lime juice (if using, see *note), jalapeno,  tomato paste, oregano, Worcestershire, and chili powder in blender. Blend until smooth. If using a Vitamix, turn Variable Speed Dial to 1. Turn on blender and slowly increase variable speed to 10 then switch to High. Allow to blend on high for 6-7 minutes or until heavy steam escapes from vented lid. Turn variable speed dial to 4 and remove plug from lid. Add bell peppers and reserved black beans and chickpeas and blend for 10 more seconds. Taste for salt. Add as needed and blend on low for 2 seconds to season, if needed. Serve immediately in bowls and stir in crumbled vegan bacon, if using. Top with cabbage slaw and corn chips (I used crumbled leftover taco shells, heated in the toaster oven).

Crunchy, smoky, full of beans and flavor and topped with slaw, this soup hits all the notes I want in my tacos. Any toppings that you just have to have in your tacos would be great additions, chopped tomato or avocado, handful of corn kernels or a drizzle of cashew or tofu sour cream would all be wonderful things to throw in or on this soup. It can be frozen for a few months then thawed and topped with fresh slaw for a healthy, quick meal on any given Taco!
Black Bean Taco Soup!

*Personally, I'm all about the citrus. The Cap'n loved this soup but not the lime. While he was on board with the lime in the slaw providing a little lime kick, he'd prefer that it were not also in the soup. If you worry the lime will be too much in both parts, leave it out of the blender and add only if, upon tasting the finished soup, you think you want that extra lime goodness.  

Grilled Tofu Marinade

I wish I had a picture of this tofu. I don't.

Full Disclosure: I am entering a giveaway over at and want to link to an actual recipe. Not just any recipe, but a recipe that never fails and always wins people over. For a lot of people and tofu, that's a tall order.

Every time I make tofu with this marinade, it gets gobbled up lickity-split by veg's and omni's alike. It's super tasty and causes the tofu to char beautifully. The key is to get the firmest tofu you can and let it press for as long as you can so that it's pretty dry and soaks up the flavor and holds it's shape when grilling. It can stick to the grill pretty badly (been there, done that), so also make sure to start with a clean, non-stick grill surface. Turning often is also important to let it char evenly.

Made of simple ingredients, this one is my go-to, gifted to me by sister-in-law's mother-in-law, Paula. She is a whiz in the kitchen, a skilled artist behind the sewing machine*, and basically just a beautiful and amazing spirit all around. She made us each a cookbook, full of hand-written and delicious family favorites, complete with inspirational words and cute illustrations. It is one of my most beloved and most used cookbooks, and this recipe is one of my most favorite ways to prepare and to share tofu.

While you're enjoying the last of summer's BBQ's, or maybe you're firing up the grill to welcome fall, press some extra firm tofu and throw it in this marinade for a few hours, then delight the tastebuds of your grilling companions and let them see how, with the right ingredients, tofu is something everyone can enjoy! Don't be afraid to make so much, it's wonderful left over on sandwiches, just pile a few chunks on your favorite bread and with your favorite sammy toppings. I like mine cold the next day with butter lettuce, Vegenaise, red onion, and tomato.

Grilled Tofu Marinade
makes a ton, enough for 2 blocks of tofu, easily
half the recipe if you're only using one block of tofu, but if you're bringing to a BBQ, you'll want enough for yourself and everyone to try!

2 blocks extra firm tofu, pressed very well, cut into large blocks or triangles
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup tamari
1 cup olive oil
3 T nutritional yeast
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T dried oregano
2 T onion powder
1 tsp salt

(For two blocks of tofu, you will need to mix marinade and separate into two baking pans). Combine all ingredients but tofu in a 9x11 baking dish. mix well. add tofu pieces to marinade. Allow to marinade for at least two hours. Remove from marinade and grill until charred to your liking, turning and basting with marinade often. I typically let it sit for about five minutes and then turn, am usually done at about the 20-25 minute mark using pretty hot grill. Tastes best when allowed to sit for a few minutes after grilling.

* Paula designs and creates the most beautiful quilts and quilted wall hangings. Her work is equisite. Check out her site, Paula's Originals, to see some truly gorgeous things she's created from cozy quilts and handy pot holders to intricate wall-hangings an unique calendar boards. Then maybe gift someone you love with a one-of-a-kind piece of her mastery!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dreamy Cream of Potato Soup

In lieu of the Taco Tuesday I missed yesterday, I offer you the conversation that occurred last night over here at Mamachandra's.

Mamachandra: Dude. It's Tuesday night.

the Cap'n: It is.

Mamachandra: Damn.

the Cap'n: No. It's cool, I got all the trash out, even the recycling! All good.

Mamachandra (laughing): No, thank you, but no, it's Tuesday. Taco Tuesday. Taco Cleanse Taco Tuesday. for the blog.

the Cap'n: What'd you blog about today?

Mamachandra: Bacon. Tofu bacon.

the Cap'n: ooooooh, bacon! in tacos?

Mamachandra: nope. in soup. well, I put it in soup that I plan to blog about tomorrow, Wednesday.


the Cap'n:  soooo.................................Taco Thursday?

See why I love this man?

I had something else planned for tomorrow. We'll see if I can't make it fit into a Taco Thursday theme. Until then......

Let's talk soup! Dreamy, creamy cream of potato soup.

Betty, my retro brown reconditioned Vitamix, has conquered smoothies, crushed juices, and beat down cashews to a smooth consistency. Now I'm hoping for her to wow us with some of the soup recipes that Vitamix has up on their site. Veganizing them looks super simple. I am really in love with the idea of a little chopping, a slight bit of cooking, then the flip of a switch and the turn of a dial to create some tasty dinners and lunches for the days ahead. T and I are headed out of town for a family birthday party and anything I cook I want to be able to freeze well so it doesn't sit in the refrigerator all weekend. With soups, I can easily pack up and take some with us, too!
Dreamy Cream of Potato Soup w/ Tofu Bacon
The first Vitamix soup recipe I stumbled on managed to contain ingredients I need to get rid of for my 'clean out the 'fridge' meal plan I have on the menu tonight. Red potatoes, onion, carrot, cauliflower, garlic. All of these I had on hand. No celery? No problem, I like using a tiny bit of celery seed in it's place as I rarely buy celery.

They call it simply Cream of Potato Soup. A little doctoring up and then time in the Vitamix though and this soup is so creamy it really is deserving of the 'Dreamy' title I gave it. It's so smooth with a few tender bites of veggies. The recipe is very basic. I smash-roasted my potatoes, upped the salt, swapped a tiny bit of celery seed for the celery stalk it called for, added a little thyme and garnished with some tofu bacon.

The dreamily smooth texture, studded with soft, tender veggies and spiked with salty bits of the tofu bacon was perfect. The roasted, smashed potatoes amped up the flavor and made it a bit richer. This means that my version is not oil-free like the original recipe, but I love it as is and am looking forward to finishing it up before moving onto my next Vitamix soup. Because I have a feeling from my new bookmarks there will be plenty more!

Dreamy Cream of Potato Soup w/ Tofu Bacon
Dreamy Cream of Potato Soup
adapted from Vitamix website Recipes
serves 4

1 1/2 c. almond milk
water for boiling veggies, reserving 1/3 cup of cooking water for soup
2-3 small red potatoes, cooked (I boiled to tender and salted, smashed, and roasted until golden brown)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped coarsely
2 c. cauliflower, chopped coarsely
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tsp veg. bouillion
1/2 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp celery seed
sea salt and pepper to taste

Place onion, carrot, cauliflower, garlic, celery seed and some sea salt in medium sauce pan. Add enough water to just cover veggies, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until just tender. Remove from heat, drain, but reserve 1/3 c. of cooking water. Also set aside a heaping cup of the cooked vegetables. Place almond milk, bullion, potatoes, thyme, reserved cooking liquid, and all but that reserved 1 cup cooked veggies. Blend until smooth. If using a Vitamix, set on variable speed one. Slowly increase variable speed to ten, switch to high, and blend for 3 minutes, tampering contents down sides as needed. Switch off of high and dial speed back down to variable 2. Remove plug from blender top and add reserved veggies, blending for only five seconds. Turn off blender. Taste for salt and adjust to your liking.  Pour soup into individual bowls. Top with favorite vegan bacon (I used tofu bacon) and fresh, cracked black pepper. Serve immediately. Unless it's Tuesday....or Thursday. Then file this delicious recipe away and just make yourself some tacos. :)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tofu Bacon

I have made my weight in tempeh bacon ten times over, I'm sure, thanks to Vegan With A Vengeance's fool-proof recipe. I have made twice that with soy curls thanks to the amazing Smoky Soy Curls recipe in Vegan Diner. I have yet to try coconut or eggplant bacon, but they're on the list, to be sure.

Bacon flavor is one I am happy to replicate. It lends itself to BLT's, brunch sides, and soup and salad toppings perfectly with it's salty, crunchy, slightly sweet, smoky flavor. What's not to love about that?

Fueled by Clean Out The Fridge Night Dinner, I figured I'd take the fail-safe method utilizes the fewest ingredients from Vegan Diner and apply it to some tofu that had been wrapped in a tea towel in the 'fridge for a couple days.

well-pressed, extra firm sprouted tofu, sliced thin, ready for marinade
It turned out just as delicious as I'd hoped but not crispy in anyway. Still great for slapping on sandwiches or chopping and adding to a creamy soup, I'm happy I chose this way to use up some of the tofu I had in the 'fridge.

Basically I had very well-pressed tofu that I sliced very thin, then marinated the slices for a couple hours in a mix of tamari and liquid smoke.

tofu marinading in tamari & liquid smoke
Brushed and ready for baking
Blotted dry again, I brushed it with a mix of tamari, liquid smoke, and maple syrup in a 1:1:1 ratio then into a 450 degree oven it went (on a nonstick baking sheet) for about 10 minutes. I flipped it, brushed that side with tarmari/liquid smoke/syrup, and baked for another fifteen minutes.

Hot, out of the oven, allowed to firm a bit on the pan.
It did firm up a bit after baking, but never really crisped. I think if I'd cooked it any longer it would have crisped up but also would have burned quite a bit as both the tamari and the syrup char very easily. I don't know that I'll fool with this method again, but I did really enjoy it as is, chopped up in some dreamy, creamy potato soup.

The final product, chewy tofu bacon

Monday, September 23, 2013

Juicing with a Vitamix

Leftovers and cookies. That's about all that's been going on in my kitchen. Today we woke up to a dreary, humid, cloudy Monday.

I have a few things bookmarked to make and blog about, but need to go to the store before any of that can happen. Tonight I'll surely be cleaning out the 'fridge and can't promise that will be blog worthy.

But wanting something bright and refreshing this morning along with my toast topped with chocolate hazelnut butter (breakfast of champions, I say!), I decided it was time to test the Vitamix's juicing capabilites.

Go Betty, go! Am I the only on who stands there a bit freaked out by this thing's power?
This is the Vitamix that I now call my own. She's of the reconditioned variety, and they were offering free shipping.  I got her in 'espresso' because I'm retro brown like that. And because my favorite color is orange; the brown goes nicely with what I already have all over my little orange kitchen.  I have made many a peach, blueberry banana or green smoothie so far and have zapped  a bit of cashews in her (her name is Betty ) with fabulous success,  but have yet to try juicing. I've never owned a juicer, but I really like the idea of drinking my fruits and veggies, fiber included, on those days when I feel I may not get them all in otherwise.

Today, a quick survey of the refrigerator's contents revealed that carrot juice should be my first attempt. We always have carrots. Always. Is that odd?  I've never been a huge fan of carrot juice, but love carrots. I think commercial bought carrot juices are too sweet. Vitamix has a recipe for carrot juice that uses water and a bit of lemon juice. I grabbed half a cucumber to make it even more refreshing. 

Refreshing Vitamix'd Carrot Juice

 The verdict? Success! Sure, if you don't want any fibrous bits in your juice, this is not for you unless you plan to pass it through some cheesecloth, but I like it just like it is. I taste each ingredient, and it's filling, but to me the bits are not distracting. The Vitamix definitely does a great job of getting the fibrous content down to a teeny tiny size that is super easy to drink.

I love that it tastes and fresh and vibrant as it looks. And it's full of fiber!

The Cap'n said it was really good (he LOVES commercially made carrot juice) as long as one knows what to expect, that it would not be smooth, but it's definitely refreshing and delicious. Unlike me, he wouldn't drink something that he didn't like just because it's good for you, so it always helps me to test things out on his palette.

I love how vibrant and fresh this is. The cucumber is definitely noticeable and the lemon cuts the sweetness of carrot. If your carrots aren't too sweet or you need some sweetness, I'd add a shot of apple or orange juice to this and/or leave the lemon out.

Personally, I enjoyed this as is, and am so looking forward to other combinations in the future and making juicing in the Vitamix a part of my weekly routine. I think the next one I'd like to try is carrot/cucumber/apple/ginger. What are some of your favorite juicing, fruit/veggie combinations?

Refreshing Vitmamix'd Carrot Juice
makes two servings

1 cup filtered water
2 med-large organic carrots*, peeled and chopped (I actually used my peeler for most of the carrot and chopped that, then finely chopped the rest)
1/2 cucumber, seeded, coarsely choppped
2 tsp fresh lemon juice (or 1 tsp lemon concentrate)
1 cup ice

Add ingredients (except the ice) in the Vitamix in the order listed. I put the carrots in water before I chopped the cucumber or squeezed the lemon just to give them a few extra minutes to soak. Set Vitamix to Variable, 1 and turn on. Slowly increase speed. Once you have reached ten, turn Vitamix to High speed for one minute, pour and enjoy. If adding apple or orange juice, add some once poured into glasses.

*While I buy organic as much as possible because I want as few chemicals on my food as I can control, carrots are one of those veggies that actually taste night and day better to me than their non-organic counterpart. I find them to be sweeter and more flavorful in general. Thankfully, the grocer I use is never out of organic carrots or I'd likely just never buy them! They taste that different to me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Favorite Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thanks to Dreena Burton's perfect recipe from one of my first and favorite vegan cookbooks, Vive le Vegan!, I have been enjoying this cookie for years.

Dreena Burton's Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies

 When I first went vegan I relied on what I called the 'Wholly Vegan Trifecta' for anything I needed to cook/bake. Everything I cook today is based, mostly, on things I learned from these books: Vegan With a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Dreena Burton's Vive le Vegan!, and Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. You can tell by the condition of each splattered, warped page which recipes and information I have relied on most from each book.  

The beginnings of my vegan journey, Becoming Vegan, VWAV, and VLV!
Since I have a weakness for chocolate chip cookies. I knew when I went vegan I would need a solid recipe. The one in VWAV is certainly solid, and delicious, but the recipe yields a few dozen and did I mention I have a weakness and that it's name is COOKIE?!

Mmmmmmm, cookies. (Extra points if you spot the obligatory cat hair! ;)

Imagine my delight when I discovered Dreena's recipe for Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies that yields only 10-12 cookies per batch without doing any math or thinking. I can pretty much make these cookies blindfolded and with my hands tied behind my back. Impressed? Don't be. It's only because I know the recipe by heart and my daughter is now old enough to follow directions and loves to help in the kitchen. Especially when the result is perfect vegan chocolate chip cookies.  :)

She measures. She jokes. She even does the dishes.

Since she's shared it here, I figure I can post the recipe. The only changes I make are that I use the 1 tsp option of vanilla extract and add a scant 1/2 tsp of almond extract. For me, almond extract is the secret weapon of deliciousness in chocolate chip cookies. It brings out the touch of salt and marries it perfectly to the sweetness.

I also use only a scant 1/4 cup of oil and allow them to chill, covered, in the refrigerator while I clean up. Since I live in Florida, this step helps them from spreading too much, which they will do if you live in a very warm, humid place like I do. 

I love that this recipe also relies on a tiny bit of molasses to add a hint of richness and the sugar (I use Organic Florida Crystals exclusively) is reduced a bit but replaced by some maple syrup. 

We use Ghiardelli semi-sweet chips as they are incidentally dairy-free and often on sale at my local grocer. 

Best part of vegan baking? Lickin' the!
For all the years I have made them, not one time have I taken them out of the oven and thought 'are they really done? They seem too soft'. Seems I've never quite gotten used to the texture of vegan cookies right out of the oven. If they seem too soft, they're not. Baked for 11 minutes and left on the pan for one more full minute and then carefully moved to a cooling rack, you have to let them cool completely. Tempting as biting into a just out of the oven cookie to enjoy it's warm gooeyness may be, it will leave you thinking they need to go back into the oven. They don't. When they are truly cooled to room temperature, they are perfection. Cooked all the way through but not super crunchy, they land on the softer side of cookie, producing a delicate crunch on the outside and an almost chewy, perfectly sweet chocolate chip cookie inside. 

I have doubled and even tripled the recipe for fundraisers and family gatherings and they have always disappeared in record time. Making them together is a special treat for my daughter and I, especially now that I just supervise while she enjoys being a big kid and a capable baker. I'm a proud mama.

Dreena Burton's Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes 8-12 depending on how big your spoonfuls
Recipe from Vive le Vegan!, p.131

1 c. flour (I use wheat, for GF use spelt but adjust to 1 1/4 c. spelt flour, total)

1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 c. unrefined sugar (we like Florida Crystals)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 c. pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp blackstrap molasses
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 scant tsp pure almond extract
1/4 scant c. canola oil
1/3 c. non-dairy chocolate chips
1/3 c. nuts, optional (when making for adults, I like to add walnuts)

preheat oven to 350. In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Use a whisk to mix and get rid of lumps (who needs sifting? not me!). In a medium bowl combine sugar, maple syrup, molasses, vanilla, almond, and canola oil. Whisk until well blended. Add wet to dry ingredients and gently mix until all flour is absorbed. Gently fold in chocolate chips and optional nuts. (I chill at this point for 10-15 minutes just to ensure the cookies are less likely to spread in my hot, humid kitchen). Spoon batter onto parchment paper or nonstick mat lined baking sheet. I typically get 9 large cookies or 12 small/med ones. You can shape a bit but don't flatten as they do spread some.

My little baker did a great job of spooning a perfect dozen.
Bake for 11 minutes. Remove from oven but allow to cool on baking sheet for another full minute. Any more than that and you risk them being overcooked or drying out.  Carefully (I find a wide spatula and a quick movement to slide under the cookie avoids the super soft cookies at this point from crumpling), move cookies to cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Very important so that they can continue to cook and firm up to that perfect moist cookie perfection! Store in air tight container.

Ta Da! Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie deliciousness!
The only bad thing about this recipe is exactly what I like about it. It only yields a dozen at most and they taste perfection. How is that bad? Well, this morning we each wanted one before breakfast and realized our newly baked treat is already dwindling! Good thing we saved two (she hand-selected which) for the Cap'n's homecoming this evening! 

*I have not made these with the GF option that the book notes, but I have made Dreena's amaranth flour chocolate chip cookies from Eat, Drink, & Be Vegan and can totally attest to their amazingness so it stands to reason this adjusted recipe is equally wonderful.

Best. Cookiemaker. Ever.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Vietnamese Tofu Cabbage Salad

When we left Gainesville for South Florida, I knew there were a few dishes from my favorite restaurants I was going to need to learn to replicate. The local Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Legend's Tofu Vietnamese Salad was one of them.

Saigon Legend Takeout
I used to watch my sweet nephews a couple times a week, and after would often enjoy dinner with my sister and her fam. I'd say once a week we'd order in Saigon Legend. The prices were right, the food simple, fresh, and delicous. For a few bucks I'd have a salad and a couple veggie sushi rolls. The first time I had the salad, I was beside myself. How could anything this simple taste this complex and perfect and WOW?! Their menu describes this meal 'appetizer/side' as

Tofu on a bed of shredded cabbage, onions, carrots, and cilantro tossed in a light Vietnamese dressing and garnished with chopped peanuts.

It was fresh and crunchy and sweet and tangy. Veggies were crisp and bright, dressing was really tart with a slight sweetness. Hints of cilantro and peanut in each bite combined so well with the other ingredients.  Perfection. Finely shredding the cabbage, onions, and carrots wasn't going to be difficult. Garnishing with cilantro and chopped cilantro, not a problem. That 'light Vietnamese dressing' tho? I wasn't sure where to start. My first attempt (and to be honest my second, third, fourth, and fifth because it was good enough for this vinegar-lovin' vegan) I just dressed the salad with some seasoned rice wine vinegar. It was way more tart than the original, but I love vinegar-y things, so I was happy to not mess with what I felt was success.

Now that it's been a while since I've had it, and I've been more than a little homesick of late, I have decided to try my hand at doing a better job of recreating the salad that I fell in love with.

Vietnamese Tofu Cabbage Salad, Take Two

I did a quick search for ideas on what a 'Vietnamese dressing' might be and decided that what was important here was to find a way to dilute the vinegar but not lose flavor and give the dressing a more umami flavor, round it out a bit. Fish sauce is seen in most every Vietnamese recipe for a salad dressing (tho Saigon Legend told me, when I asked, that their dressing is completely vegetarian, no fish sauce. Also, their dressing was really clear). 

Not knowing what kind of Vietnamese kitchen magic they were using I searched 'vegan fish sauce' recipe's anyway (Vegan Fish Sauce recipe at the end of the post, adapted from this one). Maybe not exactly like what I tasted from SL, I think I came up with something that should make my plain seasoned rice vinegar more subtle, slightly more sweet, and mellow so that the rest of the ingredients aren't overwhelmed by the dressing but stand out, rather, for being dressed with it.

So here is my take on Saigon Legend's glorious Tofu Vietnamese Salad, as they call it. It tastes like home to me.

My Ode to Saigon Legend Salad

Vietnamese Tofu Cabbage Salad
makes one serving

1/3 block Firm or Extra Firm tofu, drained well, cut into triangles
1/2 - 3/4 c. green cabbage, sliced fine
1/2 c. carrot, slivered
1/8 c. onion, slivered
4 T Vietnamese dressing = 2 parts Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar + 1 part Vegan Fish Sauce + 1 part pineapple juice (I think pinepple would be perfect, but I only had apple so that's what I used. It was good, but I think the specific sweetness and flavor of pineapple is what's missing from mine)
1 T crushed peanuts

Heat non-stick skillet to med-hi. Place tofu triangles in dry pan (no oil required!) and brown for 3-5 minutes per side. Remove from heat to cool completely. You can bake on parchment or a nonstick mat on 425 15-20 min as well.

Place cabbage, carrot, onion, cilantro, and cooled tofu in a bowl.  Toss to combine. Drizzle dressing over top. It will pool on the bottom. You don't want to toss to coat. It's pretty potent stuff and just tasting it will make you want to dip bites into it but you want to keep the fresh, crisp texture of the veggies. Top with peanuts and more cilantro.

Super simple, healthy, and delicious!

Vegan Fish Sauce
makes just under 2 cups . Lasts up to two months in refrigerator***.

1 cup nori sheets, shredded*
2 cups water
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 T black peppercorns
1/4 cup shoyu (or soy sauce or tamari)
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp seasoned rice wine vinegar**
1/2 tsp ginger, minced
1/8 ts chili sauce (I used Sriracha)

Place seaweed and water in saucepan and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil again, reduce to a low simmer, cover, and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Pass mixture through fine mesh sieve, collecting liquid in refrigeratable container. Taste and adjust for salt/sugar/water. While surely there was fish sauce in things in my pre-veg days, that was nearly two decades ago and I'm certain I never tasted it on its own so I cannot attest to how close to the real thing this sauce will taste. I do think that it successfully adds the umami flavor to things that fish sauce is used for though so I am happy with how this turned out.

Up-cycled Shoyu Bottle to hold the Fish Sauce.
Lucky for me, I ran out of Shoyu after that 1/4 cup used. The rinsed and de-labled bottle made an excellent new container for vegan condiments such as this one!

These sheets are great for snacking or in a pinch when a recipe calls for Nori but will add oil to your sauce.

*I did not have any regular nori sheets on-hand, but had picked up some Annie Chung's sesame snack nori 'chips' at Target. The ingredients being seaweed, sesame oil, and canola oil, my fish sauce strained well but had a layer of oil on the top. Once I shake it, it mixes back in, but if a completely oil-free dressing is what you're after, use nori that does not have any oil as an ingredient or just skim oil as best you can off the top.

**If you don't have seasoned rice vinegar, regular rice vinegar will also do, just add 1 tsp sugar to your pot before the second boil/simmer.

***Making this sauce for one tablespoon at a time, when it may not last but a few months in the refrigerator (tho it may last longer, I'm just playing it safe based on other recipes I've found) may seem excessive. Nearing the two month time frame, should you have excess fish sauce, simply pour one tablespoon servings into an ice cube
tray, freeze, and place cubes in a freezer bag for future use.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mama/Daughter Movie Night

Since school for my big five year old this year, I have been neglectful of what had become a sort of typical Friday night for us. A swim in the pool, some play time while snacking on healthy foods, then a movie of our choosing with a big pile of popcorn for dinner. Yep. No shame. (Sometimes, we even eat dessert after anyways!)

Tonight is as good a night as any to bring back our beloved Mama/Daughter Movie night. In lieu of a 'real' post of Vegan Mofo, I leave you with our very vegan dinner for two....

A big mess o' popcorn with fancy HimalaSalt and as much nutritional yeast as we can handle licking off our fingers. And that's a lot.

My parents are super sweet and very supportive of my stellar parenting which totally includes things like 'Popcorn for Dinner on Fridays' and gifted us a really cool popcorn popper for Christmas last year. Did I mention that we throw coconut oil in the pot to pop our kernals? We do. YUM.

Popcorn just tastes 'fancier' with this thing. 

Tonight's movie of choice? Epic. We saw it in May in the theater in 3D. Loved it so much we bought it today.

Hope everyone else has a happy Friday night filled with laughter, love, and if you're lucky? Some super yummy popcorn and someone to share it with.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

DIY Vegan Hair Gel

I have thick, curly 'ish' hair. It's unruly. It does what it wants. I live in South Florida. This means 'doing what it wants' translates to 'out-of-th-shower-tame to finger-in-a-light-socket frizzy in record time'.

Since, for me, being vegan means not only cruelty-free foods in the body as well as cruelty-free products on the body, it has been challenging to keep an array of hair care products that fit the bill, actually work, and that I can afford on hand.

Shampoo and conditioner was challenging. I tried the no 'poo method where you wash every few days with baking soda (BS) and then rinse with apple cider vinegar (ACV), and had great results for a while (after the first two weeks of crazy oily hair adjusting to not being stripped by junk). Then, however, my curly hair was too dry from BS and too oily from ACV and  I could never get the proportions right without my hair being either too flyaway and brittle or two oily. So I went sulfate-free and silicone-free this year and only 'poo the roots and condition the ends every 2-3 days. I use Dessert Essence's Coconut Shampoo, massaging only on my scalp. I condition with Kinky-Curly Knot Today Conditioner (stocked in the ethnic hair section of my local retailer) on just the ends, rinse, and massage in a drop more of conditioner that I don't rinse out. My hair is happy, and I'm happy that I don't have to do anymore research for no sulfates, no silicones, AND cruelty free ingredients and companies.

This left styling products. I really only wanted one to help hold my curls in check, and maybe one to smoothe fly aways. Already spending about $7 on my shampoo at my local mom & pop health food store and $11 on my conditioner at Target (tho they do last me for months, it still feels like a hefty expense for your hair), I wanted something super cheap, with no drying alcohols, no animal by products, and cruelty-free to help keep my hair on the curly side of unruly. It seemed like a tall order.

Enter a YouTube video that changed my life. And my hair.

I was led to that video by a curly hair community forum. I didn't know before watching it that making my own styling gel was even an option! To think that, for pennies, I could make the gel and be sure of exactly what was in it and nourish my hair like it needed was pretty exciting. I crossed my fingers that it would not be anything like my up and down no 'poo roller coaster ride.

I'm happy to report that it only takes me 10 minutes to make, requires very few ingredients and supplies, and works like a dream.

Naptural 85, the creator of the above video, is amazing and I found that while, yes, I am a white girl with kinda curly, kinda just plain unruly hair, her proportions and method do work best for me. It's a testament to how great this gel is. It works for many textures and types of hair. (And to be honest, I have had better luck with cruelty-free ingredients and companies when shopping in the ethnic hair section than in the chemical laden big brand name one). You may have to tinker with amounts or, more likely, boiling time and discover the essential oils you like best, but the flax/water recipe and method is the perfect starting point for anyone interested in spending a mere ten minutes in the kitchen to whip up an awesome, effective, affordable vegan hair gel.

DIY Easy, Affordable Vegan Hair Gel, What You'll Need

You will need:

1 med-sized sauce pan
1 tall container that holds at least 10 oz.
one nylon stocking (I buy the cheapo pack at my local pharmacy that comes with six pair for a couple dollars)
Measuring cups
Spoon, for stirring
smooth tongs or chopsticks (not having tongs that glide smoothly, chopsticks work perfectly)
1/4 c. flax seeds, whole (can be light or dark)
2 c. water (I use filtered)
essential oils of your choosing (I use a couple drops of orange* and about 10-12 drops lavender**)

1. Stretch nylon across tall container. You will use this to catch your mixture and separate the     cooked seeds from the newly made gel (I have tried a fine mesh strainer instead of the nylon. It was a complete mess. I don't recommend it). 

Nylon stretched across catch container. Ready to go!

2. Pour water into sauce pan. Add flax seeds. Stirring often, heat mixture to boiling on med-high heat. You don't want the flax seeds to clump up so stirring is essential. 
3. Boil seeds in water until your water becomes the consistency you want. The thicker the gel you make, the more hold you get. I like mine to boil for about 6-7 minutes, achieving a consistency that I can only liken to snot. :) It is not as firm as typical, store-bought gel, but has stretch when I pour it off the spoon, the last part pulls back up toward the spoon. It will also firm a bit more as it cools. 

Boil flax seed approx 6-7 minutes, or until gel pulls back to spoon when pouring.

4. Pour gel onto nylon stretched across catch container. Most of the gel will run right through to the bottom. 
5. Carefully pull the nylon off of the catch container and, with your tongs or chopsticks, squeeze out as much gel from the seeds as you can. Altogether, you should get approx. 10 ounces. I get 8-10 every time. There will be some left that you can't get off the seeds. that's okay. 

Pour gel through nylon, squeeze out as much gel from seeds as you can. Makes approx 8-10 oz.

6. Place the seeds in a storage container and store in the refrigerator. It's okay that they are a giant glob of gel-y seeds. They will break up again when you cook them next time. Yep, you can use them at least 1-2 more times. I find that I have to cook for another couple of minutes with already used flax seeds to achieve the same consistency that I get when they are fresh.
7. Set your newly made gel in it's container somewhere to cool. I rinse out my nylon and stretch it back across the container while it cools, but that's just because I have five cats and a dog in and out of the kitchen all day and it's the best way to keep my gel from containing hair. :)
8. Once the gel has reached room temperature (do not add when hot, you can destroy the essential oils and they will not be effective or can spoil and smell awful), add your essential oils and stir. I first made this gel with only lavender and had to keep it in the refrigerator so that it would not spoil. I kept forgetting to put it back in the 'fridge after using every time so it went rancid after about a week and a half in the hot, hot, humidity of my Florida shower. 
9. Carefully pour cooled, mixed gel into storage container. I use a funnel because I'm not so steady-handed. I also use a pump bottle for ease of distribution when in the shower.

Add essential oils to preserve gel and nourish hair 

Note: I have mentioned earlier that I have read that it will need to be refrigerated. Adding a citrus oil, for me, has made that not so. I also use quite a bit at a time so it may be that I just use it all up before that happens. If it ever starts to smell bad, then refrigeration may work best for you. One perk of using the gel straight out of the refrigerator is that when cold, it helps seal the hair shaft, making for even shinier, smoother hair. 

*I read that a couple drops of citric acid or a citrus essential oil would assist in that not happening. Typically people named grapefruit as their go-to for this. I had orange on hand and it's worked like a charm.

 **After some internet searching I found that the lavender oil that I keep on hand already is a great curl promoter and hair nourisher so I use that, too. My gel lasts without spoiling with just 3 drops of the orange essential oil and 10-12 lavender that I like to use for helping to promote and refresh curls. It also smells amazing.

Depending on how often in any given week I wash my hair, this gel lasts me about a month. I use quite a bit. Storing it in a pump bottle, up cycled from an old body wash, I pump three pumps at a time and apply liberally to very wet hair sections and scrunch and squeeze in the gel and out excess water before wrapping it in an old tshirt to dry some. I will typically blow out a tiny bit of the hair framing my face and let the rest dry as it will. 

L to R: Hair without gel, some humidity, Newly showered/gelled hair, Air-dried gelled hair, high humidity.

This is what my hair looks like when dry. I believe this was even the second day. 

Using this type of gel won't make your hair crunchy or dry. It actually makes it soft and shiny. I am still using a pound of flax seeds that I bought in January, 2013 in bulk at a reasonable price. Lavender I have to buy often because I use it for other things. Orange, I feel like I've had forever from an old car sachet I made. With the ease of this method and the affordability of the ingredients?  I don't think I'll ever be reading a hair styling product ingredient list ever again!

I've also started making my own vegan deoderant, facial toner, body moisturizer, and will be making laundry detergent very soon. Check back for those posts when I'm busy chowing on lots of Vegan MoFo post leftovers!