Tag Archives: vegetarian

Making sprouts, if not friends

It is difficult to make new friends in your 30s. I know that to those of you in and past this phase of life have probably already figured this out, but bear with me a moment while I catch up. I’m just not as social as I used to be. In fact I find that I’ve developed a social awkwardness that I don’t remember having in my 20s. Maybe it’s because most of my social interactions then were at a bar, drink in hand?

In any case, I find I still have the human need for friends, but am less adept at interacting with strangers than I once was. So, one solution to this has been to seek out structured activities where I am thrust into the presence of other people, but do not have to make a lot of conversation with them right off the bat. Knitting class, writing workshop, author readings, gardening class, and one class about sprouting. Yes, a class about DIY sprouting given at the local co-op. How’s that for being a crunchy Oregon hippie?!

lentils

I didn’t make any friends at the class, but I did learn a lot of fascinating things about sprouting and I have been hooked on it ever since. It turns out there is a lot more to sprouts than the alfalfa variety that I remember from my youth, and that I hated. You can sprout nuts, beans, lentils, seeds, grains, the possibilities are endless! Or nearly so.

And there are some convincing health benefits, at least I find them convincing, that have to do with all the nutrients locked up in the seed of a plant (which is, of course, what all the aforementioned things are). When you sprout a bean or a nut, you release all the protein and vitamins that it was storing to help it grow into a strong, healthy plant. Sprouts are also delicious, and have very different flavors depending on what you are sprouting – something that surprised me because my sprout experience had been limited to the alfalfa variety.

spices

My favorite sprouts so far, and the ones that have been the most consistently successful, are lentil sprouts. So, they are the sprouts featured in today’s recipe. I have also had a few challenges, though, and one sprouting disaster – lest you think my sprouting glasses are a little too rose-colored. The disaster was self-inflicted, really, and involved an attempt to sprout garbanzo beans that I knew were way too old to do anything with other than use as pie weights. Pro tip: if beans are too old to cook, they are too old to sprout.

citrus

For the most part though, sprouting has been smooth-sailing, delicious, and nutritious. This recipe is by far my favorite that has incorporated lentil sprouts, but they are supremely versatile. They add a wonderful texture and flavor to salads, sandwiches, or as a topping for just about any quinoa or other grain salad.

finished salad

Carrot, Avocado, Sprout Salad over Quinoa

Barely adapted from DailyCandy (RIP)
Makes four good-sized portions, good for lunch or dinner

Directions for lentil sprouts are below this recipe, but heads up: it takes about 3 1/2 to 4 days to sprout lentils. So, if you want to make this recipe, you best get sprouting!

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 tangerines (I used Cuties), halved
  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
  • 4 cups lentil sprouts (directions below)
  • a couple dollops of sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame, but you could use any seeds you want), toasted

Combine quinoa, 2 cups water, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn heat down to just what is needed to maintain the simmer and cook until all water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy, 15-20 minutes.

While quinoa is cooking, turn the oven on to 350° and put a large pot of water on to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the carrots and cook until a knife pierces them easily, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the garlic, cumin, thyme, chili, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper in a food processor and pulse until pasty. With the food processor running, add the vinegar and ¼ cup of the olive oil and run until well-mixed. Set aside.

When the quinoa is done, set it aside. When the carrots are done, drain and then arrange them in a single layer on a sheet pan. Spoon the cumin/olive oil mixture over the carrots.

Cut 3 of the tangerines and 1 lemon in half and place them on top of the carrots, cut-side down. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or until carrots are golden brown.

When cool enough to handle, squeeze the juice from the roasted tangerine and lemon halves into a small bowl. Squeeze in the juice each from the remaining uncooked tangerine and lemon. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle about half over the roasted carrots, reserving the rest.

To assemble the dish, start with a scoop of the quinoa and top with saucy carrots, then avocado, then sprouts. Drizzle with reserved sauce, add a dollop of sour cream to the top, and then sprinkle with toasted seeds. Serve immediately.

Lentil Sprouts

Directions from Susan Hyne, who taught the sprouting class
Makes ~4 cups

  • 1/4 cup lentils (I used Puy lentils, but you could use Beluga, brown, red, yellow, etc.)
  • 1 quart glass jar with a screw top lid
  • cheesecloth

Rinse lentils in a sieve and then dump into the glass jar.

Fill the jar with water. Cover the opening of the jar with a 2-ply piece of cheesecloth and then screw lid on to hold cheesecloth in place.

lentils in jar

Cover the jar with a kitchen towel to keep out light and soak lentils for 12 hours.

After the lentils have soaked, drain the water and rest jar in a small bowl so that it’s tilted and any remaining water can drain out. Re-cover with the kitchen towel.

draining lentils

Rinse the lentils and the bowl well 2-3 times per day for 3-4 days, each time returning the jar to the bowl so that the lentils can drain and covering with the towel.

day one

 

day two

day three

The sprouts are ready when they are about 1-inch long.

finished sprouts

Eat right away or store in the fridge. If you are storing in the fridge, do not rinse right before putting them in the fridge (i.e. you want them to go into the fridge as dry as possible to keep them from getting slimy). If you put them in the fridge dry, they will keep for up to 4 days.

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Filed under Food, Lunch, Main Course, Odds & Ends

The beauty of an unplanned meal

I am a planner. I like to organize things and catalog them and plot them out on a timeline if they will let me. I am a librarian, after all. At work I have a master To Do list on my computer that is then broken up into sub-lists, including To Do This Week, To Do This Term, To Do This Summer, you get the idea. I also have a Projects list on a whiteboard in my office, just in case my other lists distract me from what’s really important.

This extends to my personal life as well, and definitely to my kitchen. I have a list of my goals for the year next to my bed, so that I can read them every night and stay motivated. I never (well, hardly ever) go to the grocery store before planning out the week’s meals and making a list. When I first started cooking, I always, always followed a recipe. It didn’t even occur to me, in fact, that there was any other way. And I liked how following a recipe gave me a consistent, predictable result.

Thankfully, I have learned by now that so much of cooking is unplanned. It’s about tasting and adjusting and customizing. Especially since we’ve moved to the Pacific Northwest where there is so much fresh, local produce, I have embraced seasonal cooking, which means you have to be ready to do what you can with what you’ve got at any given time of year. I encountered a perfect example of this one weekend recently when David and I went to our first farmers’ market of the spring.

spring vegetables

It is still indoors, in a warehouse-like building on the fairgrounds. The outdoor market won’t return until later this month, but spring was definitely making its presence known. The booths had more life, the whole place was humming, there were spring onions. Spring onions! They even have the word ‘spring’ in their name. So, of course, we bought some. We also gathered a hodge-podge of other vegetables, whatever spoke to us, as well as a dozen pullet eggs, which are the petite eggs of a hen under 1-year-old.

ingredients

I didn’t know what I was going to do with our random purchases and I started to feel a little Type-A panic about it. But when we got home and unpacked everything it became clear: a spring quiche was in order. It was the best kind of unplanned meal – fresh ingredients combining with a well-stocked pantry to create something delightful.

finished quiche

Hearty Farmers’ Market Quiche

Crust adapted from Joy the Baker, filling modeled on Two Peas and Their Pod
Makes one 9-inch quiche

In the spirit of spontaneity, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this recipe can be endlessly adapted and tinkered with. In fact, that’s what a quiche is for, in my opinion. Especially when it comes to what vegetables and cheese you use. You can use almost anything you can imagine. Just keep the proportions of vegetables and cheese to eggs and milk about what they are in this recipe and you will be sitting pretty.

Crust:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks and chilled or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons milk, chilled (I used 1%)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch (about 4 cups) Russian kale, ribs removed and then chopped
  • 4 spring onions (white and green parts divided), chopped
  • 5 large eggs (or equivalent in pullet eggs)
  • 1 cup milk (I used 1%, use whatever you have on hand)
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

First, prepare and prebake the crust:

In a medium bowl whisk together flours, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Add the butter pieces and cream cheese and work into dry mixture, using a pastry cutter or your fingers, until most butter and cream cheese bits are pea-sized.

Whisk together the milk and oil, and then add all at once to the flour and butter mixture. Combine wet and dry ingredients with a fork until the liquid is just incorporated. Do not overwork – the dough will not totally come together, it will stay sort of shaggy.

Dump the dough into a clean 9-inch pie pan and use your fingers to press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Try to get it as even as possible, but don’t worry about it too much – no one will ever see it!

Put the crust in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.

Once your crust is frozen, line it with foil and fill it with beans or some other pie weight. Bake for 8 minutes. Then remove pie weights and foil and bake for another 4-6 minutes until it starts to brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling:

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add kale and the white parts of the spring onions. Cook until kale is wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in spring onion green parts, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk, then stir in the feta. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

When the crust is done prebaking and the filling is prepared, raise the oven temperature to 375°. Spread vegetable mixture over the bottom of the crust, and then pour in egg mixture.

Bake the quiche for 45 minutes or until quiche is set and the top is golden brown. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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Spring and spinach

Happy first day of spring! I am more excited than usual for its arrival this year. I am excited for spring every year, who isn’t? But this year the winter seems to have been longer, darker, more wearing. I’m sure this is all in my mind, but regardless, I am brimming now that spring has finally decided to show up.

spring flowers

One of the things that starts to happen in my kitchen when spring comes, and is fully ensconced as a policy by summer, is that the meals get simpler. The best spring and summer recipes involve less prep time, less cooking time, just less fuss all around. This suits my spring mood perfectly, since all of a sudden there are a million other things I’d rather be doing than standing over a hot stove (the opposite of how I feel in the winter, for the record!).

I want to plant an herb garden, for instance, and to ride my bike along that path by the river that I kept meaning to check out last summer. David and I are planning to hike and camp and swim in as many of the spots that new friends and acquaintances have described as the “best places” for such things around here as we can.

I’m looking to sit on patios – as many as I can find/get myself invited to – with a cold drink and a book, feeling the sun warm the back of my neck. It is my goal to have a picnic at every park in town and watch the dogs that will surely be at said parks run and play. I want to pick blueberries at one of the many fields that I pass on my drive to work, when the rows and rows of bushes that have been red and bare all winter become green and laden with fruit.

With all these plans, who has time to cook? Spring and summer produce is so glorious though, that I certainly wouldn’t want to forgo home-cooked meals during this time. That is where recipes like this Spiced Coconut Spinach come in. During this time of year I return again and again to old standbys like this one: recipes that I know by heart, that are quick, simple, consistently delicious, and that show off the season’s best fruits and vegetables.

mise en place

This spinach comes together in no time (seriously, 15 minutes from start to finish) and its flavors are dazzling – much more intense than you might expect. You can pair it with other spring and summer vegetables to your heart’s content. The original recipe pairs it with asparagus, which is lovely, and I imagine it would also meld well with zucchini, summer squash, corn, fresh peas, even green beans. 

It is also an ideal accompaniment for almost any starch or protein that you might be using to round out your meal. We generally eat it with brown rice, but it also tucks nicely into a pita and sits well atop a baked potato or a pile of pasta. The original recipe suggests folding it into an omelet, which is how I plan to eat it next.

Here’s to spring!

spiced spinach

Spiced Coconut Spinach

Adapted from 101cookbooks
Serves 2 as part of an entree, 3-4 as a side

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like things)
  • 6 1/2 cups spinach (~7 oz.), washed and chopped (no need to chop if using baby spinach, but I’d recommend lovely, full, spring spinach!)
  • 1 cup summer vegetables, chopped (optional)
  • squeeze of lemon
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and toast them until they start to pop. Then, add the red pepper flakes and cook for one more minute.

Add the shallot, garlic, and salt and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and any other summer vegetables (i.e. quick cooking vegetables) you’re using. Stir frequently and cook for just a few minutes – until the spinach cooks down and any other vegetables are fork-tender.

Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and top with the toasted coconut.

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Filed under Food, Main Course, Sides

Ruminating on lunch

I recently reread The Wind in the Willows, which you may have seen if you follow me on Twitter because I’ve talked about it a lot. In addition to being just about the most charming, perfectly lovely book I’ve ever read (even better now that I’m an adult), it has several passages of really appealing descriptions of food.

One in particular, near the beginning when we are just starting to get a feel for the friendly, quirky animals that live in this pastoral world, started me ruminating on the topic of lunch:

“…after a short interval [he] reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket… ‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wiggling with curiosity.
‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls cress sandwidges potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda water–‘
‘Oh stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstasies: ‘This is too much!’
‘Do you really think so?’ inquired the Rat seriously ‘it’s only what I always take on these little excursions'”

The Wind in the Willows

Image from books4yourkids.com

Yes, I know I don’t even eat many of the things in Rat’s basket, but for some reason this scene just tickles me. And more to the point, it made me realize that I’ve managed, over the last couple years of grad school-induced austerity, to get into a pretty good habit of making my lunch and bringing it with me (to school, or now, work) as opposed to buying it every day like I did for so long. I am quite proud of this habit – and how often can you say that about a habit? – so it seemed like something worth sharing.

The recipe in my lunch repertoire that I’m most excited to talk about is for a lunch salad. Womp womp. Yes, I know, I know, but hear me out. The problem with lunch salads in my experience is that they are either too virtuous – vegetable-only affairs that leave you hungry, or too heavy – sure it has fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and ranch dressing in it, but it’s a salad! And neither of those are what I want for lunch. This salad is different though: it’s healthy yet filling, but not too heavy, and it has lots of different textures and flavors – veggies, protein, salty olives, crunchy pumpkin seeds, creamy avocado. In short, it’s the perfect lunch salad.

mix-ins

Oh sure, I’ll bring other things for lunch as well. I tend to bring leftovers from dinners during the week, mixed and matched together to create something new. Recently I tried this twist on a tuna salad sandwich and really liked it. While working on this post, I found that one of my favorite food websites put together a list of lunch recipes that take 5 minutes to pack, which I will definitely try out. But where my luncheon basket is concerned, I keep coming back to this salad. It hits all the right spots, and leaves me feeling both satisfied and healthy.

salad

An Ideal Lunch Salad

Adapted from 101cookbooks
Makes 4 lunch-sized salads

The key to getting this salad (or any salad, really) to work with me is prepping it ahead of time. So, on weeks that I want to have this salad for lunch, I spend 10-15 minutes on Sunday evening to get it ready. Assuming you may want to do the same, my instructions below are for this scenario. If you are making this salad for lunch on a weekend, or perhaps a leisurely picnic, then you could obviously prep and mix it all up at once – just make sure to wait on the dressing until right before serving, as with most salads.

Mix-ins:

3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 small head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 14 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
15 kalamata or niçoise olives, chopped

Toppings:

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 small ripe avocado, sliced

Dressing:

1 tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tablespoons (depending on how loose you like your dressing) water or any type of unsweetened milk
a pinch of salt (or more, to taste)

Greens:

2-3 handfuls of whatever greens you prefer (I’ve tried it with spinach, romaine, arugula, mixes – you can’t go wrong)

Prep

Steam the broccoli for about 4 minutes – until it is fork tender, but not mushy.

In a large container, combine all the mix-ins and store in the fridge until ready to assemble your salad.

Toast the pumpkin seeds and store in a separate container on the counter.

Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients until smooth. Adjust the consistency to your liking by adding as much of the milk/water as desired. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Store the dressing in a glass container in the fridge.

Assembly

In a med-large container (I use one that holds 1 quart), first lay down a bed of greens. On top of the greens, scoop about 2/3 cup of the mix-ins. Top with 1/4-1/2 of an avocado. (I store the other half of the avocado – pit still in it! – in a container in the fridge and it keeps just fine for a day or two).

Bring the toasted nuts and the dressing with you to work. When you are ready to eat lunch, top the salad with about a tablespoon of toasted seeds and as much dressing as you like. Put the top back on your container and then shake it up – I find this is the best way to distribute the dressing throughout the salad. Enjoy!

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Brussels tops from The Oxbow Box, my new best friend

The Oxbow Box ProjectLast week, I was lucky enough to be given a box of produce as part of The Oxbow Box Project. Oxbow is an organic farm and education center here in Washington state, and I am thrilled to be able to help get the word out about them.

The box of produce I got was from Oxbow’s CSA program. For those who may not be familiar, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and essentially means that you – as an individual or family – buy a share in the harvest of a particular farm. Once you’ve signed up for a share you receive a box at regular intervals containing produce that is currently being harvested at the farm. It is a wonderful way to eat seasonally, and to learn about fruits and vegetables you’ve never used in your cooking before.

The Oxbow Box

My first experience with a CSA box was several years ago when I was living in DC and had decided to go vegan. Once I made that decision, I quickly realized that much (MUCH) of my regular diet did not fit the restrictions of a vegan diet, and that if I was going to do this thing and still be healthy, I needed to eat more vegetables. Lots more vegetables.

So, I signed up for a CSA as a way to force myself to do just that. Sure, I could have not eaten the produce and let it go bad in the fridge, but the combination of being a semi-impoverished early twenty-something and having an aversion to wasting food basically guaranteed that I would eat all the dang vegetables come hell or high water.

This period of enforced vegetable eating led to a much more veggie-focused diet that I have happily maintained, even though I am not vegan anymore. I decided to treat this CSA box the way I treated my boxes back then – as my week’s allotment of produce, the challenge of which is to make it last the week without letting anything go to waste.

This can be a really fun challenge…at least if you have a good attitude about it and like to cook. It can also be stressful if you just want something you know you can turn into dinner. To get myself into the right mood, I like to pretend like I am on Chopped or Iron Chef America!

Ahem, anyways… This is what I found when I opened my Oxbow box:

  • Carrots
  • Purple Romano beans
  • Brussels sprouts tops
  • Broccoli
  • Walla Walla onion
  • New potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Apples
  • Lemon cucumbers
  • Tomato

A pretty good haul, right?! And only a few things that I don’t generally use (whew!) The carrots and tomato I used in salads throughout the week, and the apples I happily just munched on for breakfast or a snack. The broccoli I roasted one night – my favorite way to eat broccoli – and the potatoes I used in this DELICIOUS potato and green bean salad from The Garden of Eating.

All of that was easy enough, because they were vegetables and fruits that I use on a regular basis. By the middle of the week I had to start getting creative. (I mean, what are Brussels sprouts tops anyways?)

My bible when I need to cook with an unfamiliar vegetable – or even want to try something new with a familiar one – is the book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. Not only does it contain hundreds of mouth-watering vegetarian recipes, it also devotes a page or two to explaining each vegetable, enumerating cooking techniques that can be used with it, and listing flavors that go well with it. It is a life-saver.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Using this treasured tome as a guide, one night I prepared the Romano beans topped with a spicy, bright olive tapenade sauce. Another night I created a variation of this quinoa dish with pickled radishes, using the radishes, radish greens, and lemon cucumbers.

Olive tapenade sauce

But those Brussels sprouts tops were still staring me in the face whenever I opened the fridge. I returned to Madison for inspiration, and this time really made use of her complimentary flavors lists to figure out what could potentially go well with the Brussels tops. After ruminating on that list, it struck me to create a riff on this favorite pizza I told you about a few weeks ago.

Let me tell you people, I am really happy I made this pizza. It is crazy good. A little weird? Yes. But so, so good. Here it is…stay with me here: shredded Brussels tops and spinach cooked with onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes, fresh mozzarella, and capers, topped with parsley and lemon juice. It’s creamy, it’s spicy, it’s tangy and a little salty, and it has that lovely roasty-toasty taste of roasted Brussels sprouts.

Brussels tops pizza

A traditional pizza it is not, but I will be making it again. The best part is that it turned Brussels tops, a vegetable (rather, part of a vegetable) I’d never heard of or used, into my new best friend. That’s the beauty of a CSA. Thank you Oxbow, for giving me the chance to cook with these wonderful ingredients!

Spicy Brussels Tops Pizza with Capers and Parsley

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Makes one 12-14 inch pizza

In order to shred the Brussels sprouts tops I ran them through the slicing blade of my food processor. The grating blade made the shreds way too small, but the slicing blade did the trick. Admittedly, Brussels sprouts tops are not an incredibly common ingredient. But, you could easily use actual Brussels sprouts in the same way and I think it would taste very similar – and similarly delicious.

  • half of this pizza crust (I left the honey out this time and it worked well for this pizza)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • one small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups shredded Brussels sprouts tops
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
  • 1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Sauté onion over medium-low heat with 2 tablespoons olive oil for 3-4 minutes until translucent. Then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the shredded Brussels tops, spinach, salt, and red pepper flakes, and sauté until the Brussels tops are tender (5-10 minutes).

While that is cooking, roll out the pizza dough into a 12- to 14-inch disk and transfer to pizza pan or stone. Lightly brush the dough with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge dry.

Evenly sprinkle the cheese on the oiled dough. When the greens are done, spread them over the cheese, then top with the capers.

Put the pizza in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, until the crust is brown and crisp.

Remove the pizza from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and lemon juice. Slice and serve.

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Telling my story with veggie curry

I’ve been thinking a lot for the past few days about my story, and about sharing that story through writing. This heightened level of contemplation is thanks to some very inspiring speakers I heard this past weekend at the BlogHer Food conference that was right here in Seattle (lucky me!)

Pike Place Market

This was the first time I had ever been to any type of conference or gathering about blogging – hell, it was the first time I had ever talked about my blog to anyone besides family members and close friends. It was exhilarating. I laughed, I cried, I learned a ton. When it was over, I left with a lot to think about, but also with special memories and even a few new friends. I could not have asked for a better experience.

And after a few days of decompressing and letting everything that was shoved into my brain over the weekend settle in, there is one thing that has continued to bounce around and push for my attention. It is this idea of story and how important it is to tell your own unique story with your own voice, however you do it – on a blog, in a journal, in a book, whatever.

I want to focus on doing that more in what I share with you here. I want to share my story with you. I hope you’ll want to read it.

love

It’s more difficult to do, of course. To talk about my life, the people I love or have loved, the things I care about.

Casey

It takes more work to find the words to describe memories that live, whether recent or distant, as wordless snapshots in my mind. They live as smells. As tastes. As colors. Many of them live as food.

Often they come up, rise to the surface unbidden, while I’m cooking. While I’m doing something like chopping an onion or, as happened a couple of days ago, while I’m peeling chickpeas – a meditative (read: tedious) activity if ever there was one. It is during times like this, at the stove or the cutting board, deep in the well-worn motions of cooking that I know by heart, that my mind is calm and free to wander into little nooks and crannies it hasn’t visited for a while.

Peeling those chickpeas took me back to the first time I realized that I could cook. And not just that I could do it, but that I was good at it, that it was fun, that I loved it.

chickpeas

I was vegan at the time and was with a boyfriend that did not support that choice, to put it mildly, so it was kind tough going. (He’s not my boyfriend anymore.) That year that I was vegan though, it was a year of growth – I learned a lot about myself and about how to cook.

The night this particular dish came about I was home alone and hadn’t planned dinner, which generally meant I would be eating cereal and soy milk. On this night though, I remembered a recipe for a veggie curry from one of my vegan cookbooks that I really wanted to make. I looked it up and I was missing half the ingredients. I sighed and closed the book. But then, the little cheerleader inside my head decided that I was going to make the dish anyways, that I could do it and that it would be great! So I did.

veggies

I went into the kitchen and pulled every vegetable that I had out of the fridge and freezer. I pulled out a forgotten container of chickpeas, the remainder from a can used a few days earlier. I pulled out all the Indian-sounding spices in my cupboard. And I went to work.

I chopped and tasted and added a little of this and a little of that. What I came up with was delicious. I literally danced and clapped over my stove as I tasted the finished dish. I was happy not only because I had made myself a tasty and nutritious dinner, but because somewhere during the process of doing so I discovered that I. Could. Cook.

Of course, I was feeling so good about my instinct-driven, self-discovery-prompting dish that I didn’t write the recipe down…but maybe it’s better that way, since the beauty of it was in its spontaneity. I dug up the recipe that inspired it the other day and made another variation – again using the veggies and spices I had on hand at the time – that was equally as delicious and satisfying.

This time, I wanted to share it with you. I hope you’ll make your own version and that it leaves you with a story to tell.

Creamy Vegan Veggie Curry

Creamy Vegan Vegetable Curry

Adapted from The Survivor’s Handbook
Makes 4-5 servings

As is probably apparent by the story of my first go-round with this curry, you can really make it your own. Use whatever vegetables you happen to have in your fridge or whatever is seasonal. Just keep the general proportions of veggies to spices to coconut milk the same and you won’t be disappointed. Serve it over brown rice, or just slurp it up with a spoon.

Also, it probably doesn’t need to be said, but just in case: this is in no way an authentic Indian curry…it’s a white-girl-with-a-stocked-spice-cabinet curry, just so we’re clear.

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 medium potato, cubed
  • 1 cup cabbage, shredded
  • 1 1/2 cup kale, chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 15-ounce can (2 1/2 cups) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk (light or regular)
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth (I like my curry thinner, omit this if you want it thicker)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Other vegetables you could use in this recipe instead of/in addition to what is listed above:

  • Cauliflower florets, chopped
  • Broccoli florets, chopped
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Spinach, chopped
  • Green onions, sliced
  • Asparagus, diced
  • Bok choy, chopped
  • Swiss chard, chopped
  • Bell pepper, diced
  • Zucchini or other summer squash, diced
  • Green beans, diced
  • Leeks, chopped
  • Sweet potato, diced

In a large saucepan or soup pot, sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in oil over medium-high heat for 5-8 minutes.

Add the remaining vegetables and all spices, cook for 2-4 minutes, stirring often.

Add the coconut milk, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low, simmer for 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork. If you’re not using potato, cook until all your vegetables reach your desired level of done-ness.

Stir in the peas and soy sauce and turn heat up to medium-high, cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has thickened.

Serve over brown rice, or on its own.

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Filed under Food, Main Course

Food Books I Love: The Butcher and the Vegetarian by Tara Austen Weaver

Although this blog is called BookLoverCook, there has been much more cooking than book-loving going on in my posts so far. I figure it’s time to change that since reading holds a place in my heart that is equal to (if not dearer than) cooking. So, I’m going to start sharing some of my favorite food-related books with you. Yes, I love LOTS of other types of books too, but we’re working with a theme here, people.

Each time I do one of these cook-ish-book-ish posts I will tell you about one specific book, but you can also follow my reading and wish-I-were-reading activities on GoodReads by either viewing my entire profile or checking out my bookshelf dedicated to books for food-lovers. And as soon as WordPress gets its s*&^ together and offers the capability, I will also include a little widget for my food-lovers bookshelf from the sidebar of the site. Yay reading!

Rocco loves reading

The book I want to tell you about today is called The Butcher and the Vegetarian by one of my favorite bloggers, Tara Austen Weaver of the blog Tea & Cookies. Tara also happens to live in Seattle and has often inspired me with a well-timed blog post or tweet about our fair but rainy city. I had been meaning to read this book for a while – ever since I first discovered Tara and her wonderful blog – and I was finally able to do it recently over my Spring Break.

The Butcher and the Vegetarian cover

It may not surprise you to hear that I like books that have to do with food, eating, and what food we choose to eat. Despite being happily vegetarian, however, I do not like books that are sensational or too prescriptive when it comes to choosing what to eat, especially when the choice is about whether or not to eat meat. I think that choice is a personal one with no easy answer, so I don’t like authors who try to make it black and white. That is why I thoroughly enjoyed The Butcher and the Vegetarian. Reading it felt like sitting down with a cup of tea and talking with an old friend about an issue that we both care deeply about.

We learn early on that Tara has been a vegetarian since birth – a serious Northern California, 1970’s, brown rice-sprouts-no salt vegetarian. So when her doctor recommends she start eating meat for her health, it presents quite a crisis. Her ensuing quest to figure out not only what she wants to eat, but also what her body wants her to eat – what makes her feel healthy – is honest and deeply personal.

For her, this is no mere intellectual exercise, her poor health demands that she find a diet that works for her, and to do that she has to try everything, from including meat to cutting out dairy (gasp, no cheese!) to eating totally raw. In the process she attempts to understand the implications behind her dietary choices, visiting a cattle yard and a slaughterhouse among other things, and grapples with the ethical dilemmas that inevitably arise.

Such an experiment with one’s own body is not for the faint of heart and I felt, as a reader, honored that Tara was willing to give me such an intimate window into what was a sometimes emotional, sometimes confusing and frustrating, but always hopeful experience.

And luckily, the serious subject matter is balanced out by her voice as a narrator, which is approachable, conversational, and funny. I often laughed out loud while reading about her attempts to order meat in a decidedly unfriendly butcher shop, her surreptitious visit to a meat-only barbecue, and her effort to understand the appeal and mystique behind the male-dominated world of the steak house.

This book was a joy to read, even while forcing me to think differently about issues I thought I already had a pretty firm grasp on. If you are at all interested in food issues – or even if you’re not and you just love a good memoir with a narrator you really get to know – I suggest you give The Butcher and the Vegetarian a read. Tara also recently published a new book called Tales from High Mountain: Stories and Recipes from a Life in Japan, which is currently making its way up my to-read list.

If you have any suggestions of your own for food-related books you think I should read, please let me know in the comments!

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Filed under Books