Monday, November 22, 2010

Vegan Chili

Chili is a much-loved dish, and most chili recipes are fiercely guarded. It’s not quick to make and needs to be monitored while cooking, so it’s by no means “fire and forget.” I’d recommend getting a couple of good movies to watch while you make it. The longer you cook the beans at a medium to low heat, the better the chili will turn out.

I gave this recipe to a vegan friend who was serving as a US Army Ranger at Fort Hood. He made it (minus the cilantro since one guy was allergic) for some of his platoon buddies, and they loved it. You know vegan chili has to be good when carnivores from Texas like it.

1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 cup of dried pinto beans
1 cup of dried black beans
1 large red onion, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 small fistful of cilantro, washed and diced
1 – 1.5 cups of textured vegetable protein (TVP)
5 large cloves of garlic, diced
2 -3 tbsps of olive oil (use more if necessary)
1 – 1.5 tbsps of chili powder cumin, to taste
1 – 2 dashes of cayenne pepper
Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds vegan cheese, to taste

Note: This recipe serves about 4 to 6, but I like serving chili with rice, preferably short grain brown rice. In this way, you can stretch out this batch of chili to 8 servings.

You can tweak the heat factor of this chili with a dash more cayenne pepper, or go full bore with chopped chipotle peppers or worse. Don’t make the chili too painful, though, or it becomes a dare instead of a dish.

I recommend investing in a good rice cooker. Rice comes out much more evenly cooked, with less effort, than on a range top.


  1. The night before you’re going to make the chili, soak the beans in plenty of water in a large pot. In the morning, you may need to add water if the beans soaked up what was there. 
  2. Drain the beans, keeping a jar or other container under the strainer so that you can save the water. You’ll need the water later.
  3. Dice 3 cloves of garlic and fry in olive oil over a high heat until slightly browned. 
  4. Toss in the diced tomatoes and the beans and reduce heat to medium to low. Stir.
  5. Pop your first movie in. Add the chili powder and a dash or two of cayenne pepper. Every so often, return to stir. Keep checking on the beans throughout your first movie. 
  6. Dice the last two garlic cloves , the onion, and the red bell pepper and toss them in. Add the bean water from step 2 and lower the heat a little. Start watching your second movie.
  7. Start cooking the rice about midway through your second flick. Use approximately one cup of (dry) rice for every two people.
  8. Mix the TVP in well. It will soak up a lot of the moisture in the chili. If it starts to look too crumbly and solid, add a little bit of water.
  9. If you’re using a rice cooker, once the rice is done, leave it in the cooker for a while, with the cooker on. This will keep the rice warmer until serving.
  10. Soak, wash, and rinse the cilantro before you dice it up. Stir that into the chili, and then remove the chili from the heat.
  11. Take the rice out of the cooker and put it into bowls; add the chili on top. Top the chili with Daiya cheese (the amount will depend upon how gooey you want this dish).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eat With Your Other Senses

If it sounds weird to eat with something other than your mouth, remember that we process food using all of our senses—not just our taste buds—and our minds. We determine whether we like a dish based on its taste, smell, appearance, and texture, as well as our cultural backgrounds, expectations, memories, and desires. Preparation can greatly affect how your dish is perceived. This is separate from how it is “tabled,” or presented.

Although most of the dishes I present are quick to make, when you want something really fast, there isn’t a whole lot that can beat boiling a premade meal, frying it up, or popping it in the microwave. However store-bought, pre-cooked meals are rarely as appealing to the senses, or as nutritious, as freshly prepared ones.

Using fresh ingredients—while being mindful not to overcook them—is worth the effort. The result will be bursting with flavor, texture, and color, the very opposite of airline or school cafeteria food. Fresh basil as a garnish on pasta, for example, enhances all three qualities. Fresh herbs pack a lot more flavor than dried ones, which may have lost some of their essential oils. Unfortunately, cooking with fresh ingredients requires a lot of space in the fridge and, as with a good marinara sauce, a lot of time. You simply can’t rush a good sauce.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Vegan Mushroom Pizza

This pizza is somewhat atypical in that it doesn’t include tomato sauce, but given how easy it is to make, I think it’s likely to become one of your favorites. It does require that you make the dough a night in advance, however.
As I mentioned in my recipe for vegan stromboli, I use a dough recipe from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. It yields a great all-purpose dough, but you’ll probably have to cut it down. Using about 2/5ths of the original recipe, I had enough dough for one loaf of pita bread and a pizza.
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 – 3 portobello mushroom caps, diced
Olive oil for the frying pan
Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds vegan cheese
Flour for the cutting boardPita bread dough (from Baking with Julia, above)

Serves 2.

  1. Put a frying pan of at least 8 inches in diameter over high heat. Mince the garlic cloves and dice the mushroom caps.
  2. Pour a thin layer of olive oil in the frying pan. Toss in the minced garlic. Once the garlic has browned slightly, reduce heat to medium-high, and put in the diced mushrooms. Sauté for a couple minutes. Scoop out the sautéed mushrooms and garlic into a bowl. Do not remove the frying pan from heat. 
  3. Spread a little flour onto a cutting board, and stretch the dough into circle a little over 9 inches in diameter. The dough should be a little bit thicker for this pizza than for pita bread. Carefully place it into the frying pan. 
  4. Place the sautéed mushrooms in the center of the dough and spread evenly. Spread just enough Daiya cheese over the body of the pizza. Be judicious with the Daiya or your pizza will be on the soggy side.

    Cover the frying pan with the lid for a couple of minutes. Check periodically to see if the cheese has melted.
  5. Once the cheese has melted to taste, Using a spatula, slide the pizza out of the pan and onto a cutting board using a spatula. Slice and serve.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Vegan Stromboli

Originally I wanted this to be something like the venerable hors d’oeuvre known as “pigs in a blanket,” but like the Incredible Hulk, it changed into something bigger and better.

While baking bread can be intimidating, this recipe is fairly easy to follow. I used a recipe for pita bread from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. I highly recommend the show of the same name, which airs on public television. You can never go wrong with a master like Julia Child; she makes the most lavish dishes seem easy to prepare.

You’ll have to start the dough a night in advance.

The pita bread recipe yields enough dough for this and for my upcoming recipe for mushroom pizza. If you don’t want to remain in the kitchen after making the stromboli, you can put the remainder of the dough in a sealed container in the fridge—but for no more than a day or two. There are active yeast cultures in bread dough, so whenever possible use fresh dough over dough that’s been in the freezer or the fridge.


1 package of Tofurky Italian Sausage, sliced
4 gren onions, finely diced
1 package of Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds
Pita bread dough (from Baking with Julia, above)

Makes 8 – 9 stromboli.

Note: I don’t know the exact volume of the bread dough, but the recipe calls for about 6.5 cups of flour (whole-wheat and all-purpose) and 2.5 cups of water.


  1. Start heating a nonstick frying pan of at least 8 inches in diameter.
  2. Using your hands, scoop out a ball of dough onto a floured cutting board. Flatten it to a circle of 7 to 8 inches in diameter.

  3. Place on the dough a few pieces of Tofurky sausage along with some green onions and Daiya cheese. If you want your stromboli to be very gooey, add more cheese than in this shot.

  4. Flip one side over the other, folding the dough in half. Make sure that the ingredients are completely encased in the dough. Pinch the edges to seal it.

  5. By this time, the frying pan should be very hot. Lightly place the stromboli in the frying pan. You don’t need to add oil since the bread dough already contains enough. Let the stromboli cook for a couple of minutes, turning it over once or twice (depending upon the heat of the pan) to cook evenly. Remove from pan when both sides are well cooked. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Be Prepared

Several years ago, I worked in the receiving area of a bookstore. On this job I learned the importance of having all necessary items in place before beginning a project. As shipments came in, I’d affix price and item stickers to the book covers and place theft prevention tags inside the books. The receiving area was a bustling place. Everything had to be on hand, accurate, and ready to go, as more shipments would come in almost before I could finish processing the first.

This notion applies to kitchens at every level, from residential to five-star restaurant. Known in top kitchens as mise en scene, or “everything in place,” it entails not only having all ingredients on hand, but also pre-measuring them out in bowls and preparing them if necessary (e.g., washing, chopping). It also means laying out your utensils while you preheat the oven, pots, and pans. Always keep your knives sharpened.

Always read a recipe completely, from ingredient list to final step, before you begin so that you’re thoroughly familiar with the dish and the manner of its preparation. Plan ahead especially if you have to soak dry ingredients like beans or if you have to let bread dough rise. Preheating is essential: you cannot pan sear ingredients in a room-temperature pan, for example, and putting bread dough in an oven that isn’t preheated will always end badly. Following the principle of mise en scene will always save you time and trouble. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Healthy Hearty Dip

This is incredibly quick and easy to make. It’s also fairly healthy, with a lot of fiber and little saturated fat. If you’re having trouble getting your kids to eat healthily, this makes a tasty substitute for junk food; it’s also an ideal party treat. Make plenty as it’s likely to go quickly, and watch out for double-dippers.


1 14 oz can of artichoke hearts (packed in water)
1 14 oz can of hearts of palm
2 garlic cloves
2 – 3 spoonfuls of tahini

Makes about 25 ounces of dip.


Use artichoke hearts packed in water. Artichoke hearts marinated in oil may be tastier, but they’re also loaded with unnecessary fat and salt.

Hearts of palm can usually be found in the canned vegetables section of your grocery store.

By “spoonfuls,” I don’t mean teaspoons or tablespoons; I mean regular table-setting spoons. If needed, stir the tahini well to emulsify the oil that sometimes separates and rises to the surface.


  1. Drain about half the water from the can of artichoke hearts; put the artichoke hearts and the remaining water into a blender or food processor.
  2. Drain the hearts of palm. If they aren’t “salad cut,” slice them up into little chunks. Place into the blender.
  3. Put the garlic cloves and the tahini into the blender. Don’t overdo the tahini as it can overpower the subtlety of the artichoke hearts and the hearts of palm.Blend on a high setting—with a couple of rest stops to allow the veggies to settle—until evenly mixed.
  4. Scoop with a spatula into a serving bowl along with pita wedges, tortilla chips, or veggies.

Friday, September 17, 2010

2AM Noodles

One night my girlfriend and I were up late watching crappy movies. When the mini-marathon of schlock was over, we decided that were too hungry to sleep. “Screw it,” I said. “I’m making noodles.” 

This dish may seem complicated, but it’s surprisingly quick and easy to make. No, you don’t have to make it at 2 a.m., but it hits the spot when you’re hungry after cheesy horror films.


1 package (3 bundles) of buckwheat soba noodles
1lb of extra firm tofu, drained
1 red bell pepper
1 medium red onion
1 lime
A handful of cilantro (with stems)
A handful of basil (with stems)
3 heaping spoonfuls of brown rice miso paste
2 – 3 garlic cloves

Serves 4.

Note: You’ll need a fine mesh colander for the buckwheat soba noodles. Make sure that you have ice cubes in the freezer and a lot of cold water in the fridge to shock cool the noodles.


  1. Heat up a wok while you dice the tofu. When the wok is hot, toss the tofu in and sear (you don’t need oil). Stir regularly to ensure that the tofu becomes crispy and brown. It may take a few minutes for the cubes to be ready.

  2. Finely dice the onion and red pepper. Set them aside in a bowl.

  3. Start boiling water in a large stock pot for the noodles. When the water is at a rapid boil, toss in the noodles. Leave the lid slightly ajar to prevent the water from boiling over. Cook the noodles until they are al dente.
  4. While the noodles are cooking, heat up 3-4 cups of water in a smaller pot. Toss in the miso paste and stir to dissolve. Add more water for the soup base if needed.
  5. Dice the garlic cloves and toss them into the soup stock.

  6. By this time, the tofu should be ready. Set it aside in a bowl.

  7. Wash the cilantro and the basil. Finely dice the cilantro. Roughly chop the basil. Set these aside in a bowl.

  8. Once the noodles are done, drain them in the colander. You’ll need to shock cool them by submerging them in ice water and draining again. Cooling the noodles should take a few minutes at most.
  9. Toss the veggies into the soup stock and stir. Transfer the soup stock and veggies into the larger pot and add the noodles.

  10. Juice the lime into the soup.
  11. Add the cilantro and basil.

  12. Mix the ingredients and serve up with a deliciously bad movie of your choice.