Pakoras on the Porch

Last night, I made pakoras for dinner. We were out of onions, but a neighbor was kind enough to bring one over; in exchange, we all had pakoras and wine on the porch. It was a lovely evening. Pakoras are usually a snack/appetizer, but they also make a good meal if you eat enough of them! I figure there’s enough nutrients, between the chick pea flour and veggies, to make them a decent dinner, right? 😉

My pakoras are thicker/heavier than those you get in an Indian restaurant, but they are still so tasty. I have found that the trick is to fry them correctly. I am NOT much of a fryer. I did not grow up eating fried food, and frying kind of scares me – all that hot oil! Ugh. I got burned on my first batch of pakoras yesterday, but it was worth it. 🙂 Anyways, the oil has to be hot enough to cook them almost as soon as they enter the oil – if not, the pakoras end up kind of soggy and absorb more oil. When the oil is hot enough, the pakoras cook quickly, have a beautiful brown color, and are not greasy. However, it’s scary to get the oil hot enough – it needs to be around 350-375 degrees! I used a deep cooking pot so that there wasn’t any splatter. I also used less oil – about 3/4 of an inch – than most recipes call for, and it was more than sufficient.

A time-saving trick with pakoras is to chop the veggies and mix them directly into the batter, instead of coating individual pieces of veggie. This also allows you to mix veggies together, if you choose.

I used spinach, onion, and zucchini in these pakoras. Zucchini is not traditional, but it was delicious.

I didn’t really measure ingredients, but here is the basic recipe (serves 4-6 as a meal, more as an appetizer):

2 cups chick pea flour

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

chili powder, to taste

about 1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups water

Veggies of your choosing: for this amount of batter, I used 1 zucchini, chopped; 1 onion, chopped; and 1/2 bag of spinach, chopped

oil for frying

Mix the dry ingredients. Add water and whisk well until a thick batter forms – about the consistency of pancake batter. (Note: the batter will taste overly salty; when you add the veggies and cook the pakoras, the salt becomes much less prominent).

Heat the oil to about 375 degrees. Divide the batter among your veggies, and mix well to combine so that the veggies are well-coated with batter. Drop tablespooonfuls of the batter-coated veggies into the oil; cook a few minutes on each side.

Serve with tamarind sauce (mix sugar, tamarind paste, and water) and coriander relish (I buy mine; it is a spicy mix of cilantro and chilis. I usually use Nirav brand.)

I know a lot of people do not like frying, but trust me, this is one recipe that really needs to be fried. Baked pakoras just don’t work. Baked samosas, baked doughnuts, baked fries – all of those work. Baked pakoras, not so much. The frying doesn’t take long, and if you do it right, not much oil is absorbed, so it’s not that unhealthy. Trust me on this one.

Sunday running roundup: Monday, 3; Tuesday, 0; Wednesday, 5.5; Thursday, 3; Friday, 5; Saturday, 1; Sunday, 14.5. Total: 32. Not bad! I meant to do 10 miles today but was enjoying myself so much that I added on a few extra.

Vegan Peach-Blackberry Crisp and PureFit Bars

Peach Blackberry Crisp with Almond Topping and the BEST homemade vegan ice cream EVER (recipe coming soon!)

 

Oh my GOODNESS, it is hot here in the South! I stumbled through a 5-ish mile run this morning, and I really need to walk the dogs….but it is SO HOT! I’m not sure they even want to go.

The less cooking/baking in this weather, the better. Tonight’s dinner was a massive Thai curry, with tons of farmers’ market veggies: zucchini, squash, white eggplant, carrots, kale – YUM! The white egglants were surprisingly tender and did not have a strong flavor, as purple eggplants usually have. I also made some spring rolls, which I’ll post about later.

I haven’t turned on the oven in almost a week! Last week I made this crisp/cobbler (what’s the difference, anyways?), also with farmers’ market peaches and blackberries.  It was so good! We served it to two sets of guests and everyone loved it. I used almond extract in the crisp topping because I was out of vanilla (gasp! horrors!) and I really like almond, particularly with fruit. Use either or both!

Fruit:

1 dozen peaches, sliced

3-4 cups fresh blackberries

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons white flour

Topping:

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

salt, to taste (1/2 – 1 teaspoon)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract, optional (but totally delicious!)

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons vegan margarine, such as Earth Balance or Fleischmann’s unsalted

1/4 cup coconut oil

Method:

Put the fruit in a bowl; sprinkle with flour and sugar and stir gently until well-combined.

Peaches and blackberries mixed with the sugar and flour

 

Put flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the margarine and coconut oil until the mixture resembles coarse sand with  a few pebbles thrown in. Add the extract(s) and stir to combine.

Put fruit into 2 9 x 13 pans, or other similarly sized pans. Pour topping on top and press down gently to ensure the fruit is covered. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until fruit is bubbly and topping is a nice light brown. Serve with your favorite vegan ice cream.

A few weeks ago, I won a box of PureFit bars, www.purefit.com,  from Averie over at www.loveveggiesandyoga.com.

These. Bars. Are. AMAZING. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as I’ve never had one before, and they were billed as high-protein and I’m not usually a high-protein kind of gal. Every now and then I buy a Luna or Clif bar, but in general I don’t buy bars. However, I will buy PureFit if I happen to see them at Whole Foods (or anywhere else). I got the Almond Crunch flavor. There was a distinct, but not too strong or bitter, almond flavor. I was worried that there would be too much crunch for my taste, but instead of being crunchy, the bar was dense and chewy with just little pieces (tiny) of almond that gave the bar  a nice texture. I don’t like big chunks of nuts in my food, and these bars definitely did not have that. The bar is not a granola bar; it is denser and chewier than a granola bar. However, as the wrapper proclaims, it does not melt – even after being left in a car in the southern heat! The bar was sweet without being overly sweet. I find Luna and Clif bars to be too sweet, most of the time; these were NOT too sweet. Score!

I’m not big on calorie counting or fat counting or any of that, but these seemed to have good nutrition. The Almond Crunch bars have 220 calories and 18 (!!!) grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber. I like a bar/snack witha  good amount of fiber and/or fat, to help keep me full. These bars were GREAT in that regard – as a quick breakfast or snack, they really tided me over to the next meal. I have started stashing one in my bag on the days I’m running from one courthouse to another – they are a tasty, wholesome, filling snack on the go.

http://purefit.com/nutrition-info

PureFit has several flavors – Cherry Almond, Brownie, Peanut Butter Crunch, Granola Crunch – AND EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM IS VEGAN!!! That is just totally awesome. I love finding a product line that is 100% vegan – it is so convenient to NOT have to read labels. They are all gluten-free, too. Definitely worth trying, especially if you want  a bar that is not sickeningly sweet and has a solid dose of protein.

Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip

Today’s run: 3 miles with the girls in the double stroller….that should count as double mileage, right? 😉

We have some neighbors with whom we have wine and snacks every few weeks. They are considerably older than us, but we’ve hit it off because they are also strangers to this area; they are from Atlanta and moved for the wife’s job. They are not vegan or vegetarian, but we enjoy having wine and light food and good conversation with them every few weeks.

We hosted this past Friday. I  decided I was not going to cook dinner in addition to the appetizers, so I made enough appetizers to count as dinner. We had homemade bread, homemade crackers (a variation of some of the recipes I’ve posted on this site), a carrot-sunflower seed dip that wasn’t all that good; tapenade; avocado slices; chocolate chip cookies; and this dip, which I thought turned out really well.

Full disclosure: I don’t think I’ve ever had the ‘real’ (non-vegan) spinach artichoke dip. I became a vegan when I was a freshman in college, and although it is possible I had some at some event prior to that, it is unlikely; I didn’t go to a lot of social events when I was young, and this was not something my mom ever made. So, I don’t know how authentic this is. I liked it, as did everyone else who ate it (including the 3-year-old and our omnivorous neighbors), so it’s definitely good in its own right, even if it’s not an exact replication of the real thing.

Another full disclosure: you can obviously take a recipe for the non-vegan dip and veganize it using Daiya, Veganaise, vegan cream cheese, etc. However, I don’t tend to cook with vegan analogs. One, they’re really pricey; two, they’re super-processed; and three, there’s not much satisfaction in veganizing something merely by using vegan cheese instead of regular cheese. I also really prefer using real, whole foods in my cooking. Don’t get me wrong; I have had Diaya cheese and Tofutti cream cheese, and have enjoyed both. I just don’t buy them or cook with them. For me, it is easier, cheaper, and somehow more honest to cook with naturally-vegan ingredients. But hey, if you buy and use those products, by all means use them, because I bet the dip would be delicious and much more authentic than this recipe.

Anyways…..on to the recipe!

1 pound fresh silken tofu

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste

1/4 cup oil

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 can brine-soaked artichoke hearts, chopped

1 pound frozen chopped spinach, stems picked out

preheat oven to 350.

Defrost the spinach at least somewhat and squeeze out the extra water. Chop the artichokes and squeeze out that extra water, too.

Using your immersion blender, puree the tofu, oil, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic. Puree for a few minutes, letting it get all nice and airy/bubbly.

Combine the tofu mixutre, artichokes, and spinach. Put into a 9 x 9 pan or two smaller casserole dishes. Don’t overfill the casseroles; the mixture will boil and bubble and could easily spill out.  Cook at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until it is lightly brown on top. Serve hot on bread, crackers, or even over pasta.

I think next time I will try using some miso instead of salt to give it more oomph, and maybe will try using a little lemon juice also. This was really good and basic, though, and SUPER easy and cheap.

Lenten Cocoa and Vegan Oatmeal, Pumpkin Seed, and Flax Seed Crackers

Today’s run: 4 hilly miles, while pushing the girls in the double stroller. I should get extra credit for that, right?

Yesterday’s run: 4 miles, more Elgar.

Today’s recipe: crackers that I made earlier this week that are already almost gone. They’re pretty tasty.

These crackers don’t photograph well, but I did get what I thought was a pretty picture of some hot cocoa I made. I like the swirly-ness of the almond milk and cocoa powder.

I love my big Morning Edition mug! A good mug makes all the difference.

I love hot cocoa, but I have been enjoying it almost every night since giving up dessert for Lent. I figure the way I make hot cocoa, it doesn’t really count as dessert. I put some cocoa powder in a mug, fill the mug almost all full with water, stir stir stir, microwave it, and add a splash of almond or soy milk and some sweetener (I use generic-brand Splenda; this is the only thing for which I use artificial sweetener. I bought some years ago and still have it lying around). I sometimes add a dash of salt and a drop of vanilla. It is delicious and light, and just the thing for an evening treat. If you are used to real hot cocoa made with milk and sugar, don’t try this! 🙂

I tried another cracker experiment. I was really pleased with how my first batch of crackers turned out (see recipe under snacks); in fact, we were ALL pleased with them. The three-year-old practically begged for them, and the one-year-old used them as teething biscuits.

I really like how this recipe turned out. I think they are pretty healthy, too – lots of fiber, some protein, and some omega-3s, if you care about that sort of thing.

These don’t photograph well (at least, not with my cheap-o point-and-shoot) but I posted a pretty picture of cocoa so that counts, right?

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups oatmeal

1/4 cup flax seed

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (raw)

1-2 tablespoons sugar

salt, to taste (1/2-1 teaspoon)

3 tablespoons oil

1 cup water

Method:

Grind the oatmeal into oat flour. Grind the flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. (I used the Magic Bullet for this). Mix dry ingredients; stire in wet ingredients. You may have to need the dough just a few times to get everything to mix in. Add a tiny bit more water if needed.

Roll dough out on a metal cookie sheet (about 1/3 to 1/2 of the dough at a time) to about 1/8 inch thickness. Score into cracker-sized pieces. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until crispy and lightly browned. If the crackers don’t come easily off of the pan, cook for a few more minutes until they do. Cool on cooling rack or even right on cookie sheet. Store in airtight container.

I told my mother-in-law about making these and she seemed impressed that I made crackers, so I gave my husband some to give to her, and now I have a big head about her being impressed with my skills 🙂 I’m sure everyone has their own MIL-related tensions…..mine is over the fact that I work (gasp!) outside the home, instead of being 100% completely and totally fulfilled by serving my husband and children at home. I know people who are very happy as stay-at-home-parents, but not everyone has that sort of personality, and I certainly do not. To each her own. Unfortunately, it’s hard for my MIL to see it this way. She’s pretty religious and somehow ties religion into this particular debate….ah, it’s totally not worth getting into. Anyways, I always congratulate myself when I manage to impress her, and these were apparently impressive crackers 😉

Sunflower Seed-Flax Crackers (Vegan)

Today’s run: standard mid-week 3 miles, Dvorak cello concerto. I have a trial coming up next week and have been thinking about it non-stop, but particularly when running….I think I figure out half of my pre-trial motions while running!

Onto a new recipe….

This was my first attempt at making crackers. They came out pretty well. I’ve been wanting to try making crackers for quite some time; every time I’ve enjoyed someone else’s homemade crackers, I think ‘dude, I’ve totally got to make these!’. These were easy and came together quickly. Both girls liked them, too. I made them because I had the oven going for something else and didn’t want to ‘waste’ heat by not using both baking racks.

This is a good basic recipe. I’m going to experiment with other seeds/nuts (pumpkin seeds? YUM) and other flours (I really wanted to make this with oat flour but we were out of oatmeal, shockingly). I think I’ll also experiment with sprinkling stuff on top, like salt, poppy or sesame seeds, garlic….

Makes…..several cups of crackers, I guess. Crackers are hard to measure 🙂

1/4 cup flax seeds, ground

1/4 cup sunflower seeds, ground

1 1/2 cups flour, white or whole  wheat

about a teaspoon of salt

1-2 teaspoons of sugar

2 tablespoons oil

1/2 cup water

Grind flax and sunflower seeds – I just threw both into my Magic Bullet, and in a few seconds they were ground up. A few unground seeds are fine; they add texture and crunch.

Mix all ingredients. Roll out onto a cookie sheet, using a rolling pin. I needed to use two cookie sheets, but if you have really big cookie sheets, one is probably fine. You want the dough pretty thin – as thin as possible, really, but don’t stress over it. Using a serated knife, score the dough into whatever size/shape crackers you want.
Bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. The crackers at the ends of the sheets will be done before the ones in the middle; just let them get a little extra cooked.

Remove from oven when the crackers are light brown and come off of sheet easily. Slide from the cookie sheet onto a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container.

These also worked well as teething-type crackers for the one-year old. She loved them and it took her FOREVER to eat one; she seemed to enjoy gnawing on them.

5-minute Homemade Tortillas (and vegan quesadillas)

Today’s run: A truly marvelous and cold 6 miles. It was the kind of cold that required lined windpants, two shirts, and thick gloves – it was in the high teens/low 20s when I started out. I love cold weather, particularly for running. It totally wakes me up and makes me feel more energetic. When we lived in MI, it was sometimes so cold (below zero) that I’d return from a run with icicles hanging from my hat, where my breath had risen and frozen. I still loved it, though.

Music: A tiny bit of Brahms followed by my favorite, Mahler – a tiny bit of the 3 symphony followed by parts of the 5th. Good stuff.

We were at a loss for dinner tonight; we had some leftovers, but not anything we were totally thrilled about, yet neither of us felt like cooking.  How to get out of a food rut? Ah yes – I remembered that I had some Daiya cheese left over from our trip last weekend, and needed to use it. We never (well, maybe once) buy Daiya, not because it’s not good, but because it is hard to find (where we are), expensive, and heck, I’ve survived without vegan cheese for 15+ years so I just don’t really ever think about buying it…..but last weekend, when we were visiting some siblings-in-law, I ended up having to buy some Daiya….long story short, but basically the sister-in-law INSISTED that we all NEEDED to eat quesadillas for lunch, made on her new quesadilla maker, and further insisted that I just HAD to have vegan cheese instead of just beans on mine….but then she couldn’t find said vegan cheese, so she insisted on us making a special trip to Whole Foods which resulted in me spending almost 5 bucks on something I would never actually buy for myself. It was slightly ridiculous – seriously, I keep telling you I don’t want or need a particular item, you insist on dragging me out to find it, and then I have to pay for it? Geesh. Anyways, I have to admit the quesadillas were actually pretty darn tasty. I would never want a kitchen implement that takes up so much space and is only good for one thing, but the quesadilla maker did make good quesadillas.

Anyways, so I returned home with extra Daiya and needed to use it. Enter these super-easy, super-quick quesadillas.

I am not at all against buying prepared foods – canned beans, jarred salsa, etc. – but I try really hard to make stuff that is easy and cheap to make. Tortillas are surprisingly easy to make, as long as you don’t mind them not being perfectly round (or are really good at rolling them perfectly).

This is my most basic tortilla recipe. You can fancy it up and increase pliability by adding a little oil, baking powder, and some spices, but they’re just fine as is.

makes 6-8 tortillas

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

about 1/2 cup water

extra flour for following out tortillas

Method:

Mix salt and flour. Add water. Stir until dough pulls together. Use your hands to work in all the flour. You may need to add a touch more flour. You want a dough that is completely not sticky.

Pull off little sections of dough (about 3 tablespoons’ worth, or you can just divide the dough into 6 or 8 equal sections before starting). Flour a cutting board and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Roll it to about 1/8 inch thick; you want it thin, but not so much that it rips or tears. Again, use flour to prevent sticking as you roll.

Place one tortilla on a dry (ungreased) cast iron skillet, at about medium heat. Cook for a few minutes (1-2), then turn over and cook another minute or two. It is done when there are brown spots on the tortilla. If the skillet is hot enough, the tortilla will puff up a little; it will flatten when you remove it from the heat.

To make quesadillas:

Spread some refried beans (I use about 2 tablespoons per quesadilla) on one side of a cooked tortilla, followed by a little Daiya cheese. Top with another tortilla and cook for a minute or so, until the cheese is melted. TIP: to save time, cook one tortilla; put it on a plate and spread some refried beans on it. Start cooking another tortilla; when you flip that one over, sprinkle some cheese on the just-cooked side and put the bean side of the other tortilla on it, so that you are cooking the tortilla and the quesadilla at the same time.

Eat as is, or with salsa. YUM.

Question: Have you ever been in a situation where someone is trying to do something nice for you, but it’s something you really don’t want and is something that is going to require you to do work/spend money/etc.? One example I have is when a well-meaning relative gave us a DVD player but we didn’t have the requisite equipment necessary to connect it to our TV, so we ended up  having to spend 100 bucks to get it set up to work….and we hadn’t really wanted a DVD player in the first place, but it seemed silly to just leave it in the box. Oh well. We’re glad we have it now, years later.