Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Provencal Mock Chicken Salad

What do you do when you feel like you've hit the jackpot? Jump up and down screaming or stand still in mute, slack-jawed joy? Wiggle to a happy dance of pure unadulterated ecstasy? Or are you more demure, smiling like the cat who ate the canary? I am like a pinball machine - my eyes light up, my mouth pops open, sometimes sounds emit from my throat, but not always.

After tasting this new creation, all of the above happened and I kept repeating an exultation to the divine, hands raised above my head in rapture. True story, not kidding. That's why this post is showing up now instead of about a month from now - I just had to share and all of the other posts lined up for the blog had to wait.

See those sliced radishes surrounding the mound of salad? They look like garnish but they're actually worshiping at the alter of this dish. They just about jumped off the board and onto the plate in eager anticipation of their role in the photo (and their peppery taste went perfectly with the spinach!)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Spicy Lentil Lettuce Cups

Lentils have always been a favorite of mine, but usually I prepared them in a traditional French fashion, in soup or with a red wine vinaigrette. Then Isa Chandra opened my eyes: lentil "meat." What a concept! Nothing short of revolutionary!

Now a pint size jar of cooked lentils is a staple in my refrigerator. Whether they are used to create a quick taco filling or added to a grain and veggie saute, they are always ready to go. Here they are sauteed with peppers - hot and sweet - to fill some bibb lettuce cups. Simple, filling, and delicious.

Lettuce cups kind of hit the mainstream when carb-free diets were all the rage, but protein-filled lettuce cups is actually a traditional Asian preparation, found in Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisines and probably others of which I'm not aware. Essentially street food for any flavored protein, my first taste of a lettuce cup was with seasoned tofu at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Washington, D.C., and I have been hooked ever since. This is one of the few times that gourmands will eat iceberg lettuce since its water content is the best foil to spicy seasoned beef, pork, chicken or tofu used to fill the leaves.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Dirty" Vegan Pesto with Conchiglie and Sun-dried Tomatoes

I am an avowed fresh herb fanatic, using parsley and cilantro in place of lettuce in my salads on a regular basis. Not only do fresh green herbs always wake up my taste buds but they are nutritional powerhouses. A little known fact, parsley has more iron and calcium per ounce than kale or spinach, but since most people eat it in such small quantities - primarily as garnish - no one trumpets it. Along with parsley, cilantro is also high in anti-oxidants, all the B vitamins as well as a great source of vitamin A and C. But that's not why there are always a couple of bunches of each in my refrigerator, I just love the taste of them!

Sometimes the days get away from me and then the wilting bunches are tossed in the food processor, stems and all, to become this quick and dirty pesto! It's "Dirty" because there is no need to pick the leaves off the stems, just toss them all in the bowl of the processor. In fact, the stems are even more packed than the leaves with the nutritional benefits of these gorgeous greens, so do not waste them!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

BBQ Tempeh Pizza

The first time I became a vegetarian it was a pretty simple transition - living in a dorm in graduate school the meat was appalling to look at let alone eat, and eating meat out on a student budget was rare. So when my roommate urged me to go veg like she was so we could share meals, it was no hardship. But my recent transition was a little more cold turkey (pardon the pun!) While meat had been an irregular visitor to my table, I did eat a burger a month and the occasional slice of charcuterie. But what I truly craved was a local pizza called "BBQ' Chicken."

Pizza is probably my biggest weakness, and I will generally try almost anything (savory) on my pizza so when Dagwood's "BBQ Chicken" landed on my plate I was smitten: tangy BBQ sauce, mozzarella, sliced chicken, and cilantro. Sounds incredibly unhealthy and decadent, right! But oh so delicious! Cutting meat out of my diet meant no more BBQ Chicken, or did it? Always one to experiment, I decided to make my own version, and it turned out pretty darn well, if I do say so myself!

Monday, August 13, 2012

BBQ Sauce - DIY Pantry

Oh, admit it. You think that BBQ sauce is something that you have to buy in a bottle because you don't have some great, great, great, granddaddy's Texan or Cajun or Tennessean secret recipe. Hogwash! It is ridiculously easy to make your own and tailor it to your taste. And of course, who's the wiser if you say it was a recipe inherited from a friend of a friend's great southern granddaddy - embellish a little, it's what all great Southern characters do!

If you're interested, here's a great article detailing the particulars of the so called 10 regional styles, my personal version sounds like a cross between Louisianna and Kansas City - tomato based with vinegar, molassess and plenty of hot pepper sauce. Since I am not a meat eater, this sauce is usually slathered over tofu or tempeh and baked or grilled to create a crispy crust.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tomato, Basil and Olive Salad

Tomatoes are undoubtedly the stars of summer - juicy, fragrant and toothsome. And when they first appear in the farmers market or your grocery store or better yet in your garden, they need no dressing up. Popping the little ones in your mouth or biting into them like peaches is one of life's great pleasures. Adding fresh basil is simply crowning all that glory with the next best thing.

This dish hardly deserves a recipe but really is just a reminder of how delicious a plate of sliced tomatoes with basil leaves can be. A few sprinkles of salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and you have one of the greatest "salads" of all time. Slip a few slices of fresh mozzarella between the tomatoes and you have the classic Caprese salad that is almost de rigor on summer menus at most restaurants. But don't let its commonplace fool you into thinking this is a boring ole salad. There's a reason that it is ubiquitous because it is one of the best ways to enjoy this gorgeous fruit!

For me, basil, tomato and olive oil salads always include olives, usually oil-cured Moroccan olives as pictured above, but that's just my palate. While many people love the beefsteak or Jersey tomatoes that are starting to make their appearance right about now, I am partial to the roma or plum tomato. Slice up three or four of those, add some bread and my dinner is done!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chesapeake Tempeh "Crab" Cakes

Weeeellllll, it's official. Apparently these Chesapeake Tempeh "Crab" cakes are the greatest aphrodisiac on earth. No really. Not that I'm speaking from direct experience - that would be over sharing just a tad! But from the folks who have tried these have confirmed it: anyone who eats them will be begging for more and will do anything (short of murder, let's hope!) to get them.

So how would you handle such adoration?

1. Turn on your sassy heel, tossing your apron corners at such sniveling submissiveness and watch as their saliva-dripping mouths make puddles; or

2.  Charge an arm and a leg (or bank a few hours of help around the house time) to make another batch; or

3. Take pity on the poor souls and show them how easy it is to make it themselves.

Luckily, I am the generous type of Leo!

These tasty morsels are from Post Punk Kitchen - was there ever a doubt? I have made them twice in one week, and even with the second batch when I distractedly added 3 (!!!) tablespoons of hot sauce instead of one, they were still unbelievable-ness in my mouth.