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Veganomicon and the Web: Vegan Supper

kale chips, mujadarah

We’re thinking of going vegan, or at the very least becoming more serious about doing the “vegan before 6” plan that Mark Bittman describes in Food Matters. But I don’t want us to be lazy about it — what the Vegan Freak Radio folks rightly deride as “potato chip vegans.” A big part of what I want to do is make smarter choices about food in general, and to make a greater effort to put vegetables at the heart of our diet.

So I’ve been looking at vegan cookbooks, not just to get new recipes but to learn what some of the principles are for things like baking. Or at least that was the plan; I haven’t got very far in the cookbook canvass and so I haven’t really gotten a full understanding of what you do in place of eggs. I got sidetracked in Veganomicon by a blast from my past: lentils and rice with caramelized onions, which I knew as Mujadarah when I was in grad school in Cleveland and spending too much money at Aladdin’s on Cedar. I usually pride myself on trying new dishes when I eat out, on not getting into a rut and always eating the same thing, but I could never resist the crispy toasted onions and the hearty lentils and rice.

MujadarahPlated2

So I had to make it for myself. It’s not at all difficult but it does require a bit of time from start to finish. I began by weighing onions, as the recipe called for 2 pounds. I sliced these into thin rings and put them into a baking pan, and then tossed them with olive oil (the recipe calls for 3/4 of a cup and I followed it but I think that was too much; I’ll use half a cup next time). I set them roasting in a 400-degree oven. They were supposed to take 25-30 minutes to get crispy and caramelized, but I had to turn up the heat partway through and add a good half hour to the cooking time before I was satisfied. I think our oven runs a little cool, and it’s a more pronounced difference at the higher end of the temperature range.

RoastedOnions4

Still, there was plenty of time for the onions to catch up. My next step was to put 4 cups of water on to boil, then rinse a cup of rice and add it to the boiling water along with a stick of cinnamon, some allspice and some ground cloves. (Just how much of those two is not clear; the recipe didn’t list ground cloves in the ingredient list but named it in the instructions, and mentioned allspice twice, so I improvised a bit.) I brought the mixture back to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer 15 minutes, then added a cup of rinsed lentils (I used brown lentils but you could use red, which I will try another time) and some ground cumin, covered the pot and brought it back to boil, and let it cook another 45 minutes. I took it off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, then discarded the cinnamon stick and stirred in the caramelized onions. Well, I saved a couple of spoonfuls to lay atop the served-out bowls.

KaleChips6

To go with it, I served kale chips. These are child’s play to make, but took a bit of digging to find; the one thing I can report is that none of the vegan cookbooks I currently have from the library includes a recipe for them. I ended up searching the Gluten Free Girl site and using this recipe. You rinse the kale leaves; I cut out the thick center ribs, which with my bunch made for a lot of small chips, but you could probably trim those ribs down without removing them and end up with larger chips. Anyway, once you’ve dried them well, you toss them with olive oil, spread them on a baking sheet, and bake them at 350 for about 12-14 minutes or until they’re crisp but not browned. (Well, some of mine got a little brown; Shauna warns against that because the browned bits are bitter but I rather like the taste as part of the overall balance.) Then you dust them with a mixture of salt, paprika and garlic powder, and then challenge yourself to have any left by dinnertime. The recipe doesn’t indicate how long they keep; I don’t think it’s an issue. You probably won’t have any left by the end of the day.

KaleChips4

Anyway, we served up the Mujadarah with kale chips, which were a fine complement; the spicy salt balanced the heartiness of the lentil and rice dish. One bite and I was transported back to grad school and Cleveland Heights. It’s not a picturesque dish, but it’s delicious: hearty and spicy and comforting. It’s terrific cold, too.

Vegetables Every Day: A Green Leafy Respite to the Bisquick

kale with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar

KalePlusOnionsVinegarWhen I was deciding what to cook from the Bisquick cookbook, I knew we would need something green and leafy to accompany it. Something healthy, non-processed, made of real food. So I reached for Vegetables Every Day.

This is a very handy cookbook for people who want to add more vegetables to their diet. It’s ChoppingKaleorganized by vegetable, so you can pick something up at the farmers’ market and be confident that you can find some way to prepare it. Each vegetable gets an intro section with general guidance — seasonal availability, how to recognize quality, how to store, basic preparation techniques — and then several more detailed recipes. This is the book that taught me how to roast BrowningOnionsasparagus (which was a revelation). Everyone should have a copy, and use it regularly.

I decided that kale would be a good balance to the beef-and-pancake nonsense, and chose the recipe for kale with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar. It’s not at all difficult. You stem and chop some kale, then toss it into boiling water with some salt and CaramelizingOnionslet it cook for about 8 minutes, then drain. Then you halve and thinly slice a couple of onions, heat up some olive oil in a skillet, and cook the onions 12-15 minutes or until they’re golden brown. At this point you sprinkle on a bit of sugar and continue to cook them another 10 minutes or so, until they’re very brown and verging on crispy. Now it’s time to add the kale and toss it together KalePlusOnions2well, cooking for 2 minutes or so. Then you pour in a bit of balsamic vinegar and grind on some fresh pepper, and it’s ready to serve.

This dish was wonderful. I’m not sure there is a better smell than onions cooking in olive oil, and the caramelized onion flavor is wonderfully complex, smoky and rich. The kale is still pungent enough to provide a contrast, but not aggressively so. The vinegar adds a nice tart overtone, and if I’m not mistaken it helps make the nutrients in the kale more available to your body.

Verdict: Success. I’m going to make this again, alongside a main dish more worthy of it.

Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite: Good Food, No Yelling

kale, chorizo, and potato soup

StewInBowlI’ve never watched “Hell’s Kitchen” or any of Gordon Ramsay‘s other cooking shows, and I’ve never seen any footage of him yelling at the people under his command. I don’t approve of that sort of behavior, and because of that I wouldn’t have set out to buy this cookbook. But I missed one of the deadlines to let the cookbook club know I didn’t want the selection of the month, then lost the box WeighingKaleunder a pile of junk on my desk until it seemed too late to return it.

Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite doesn’t hint at any of the “Hell’s Kitchen” temper or conflict. The book brims with beautiful color photos of a cheery blond chef and his delicious but healthy food. In the introduction Ramsay insists he’s been passionate about KalePotatoesStagedhealthy lifestyle since 2000, and that while “I don’t believe in diets” (which is typically chef-speak for “I don’t count calories and I use butter”) he does believe that good food made with the right ingredients can help people live more healthfully. The right ingredients are of course fresh, locally sourced, and naturally low in fat (vegetables, lean cuts of meat, etc.).

AddingPotatoesSaltPepperThe recipes do look good. There are some terrific-looking salad and vegetable dishes, plus a lot of oily fish and whole grains. There are also poached eggs, beef roasts and lamb; there is no sense of deprivation here. Of course everything in the photos is gorgeously plated. And quite a few of the recipes are fast and simple, suitable for weeknight cooking.

BringingToBoil2The recipe I chose for tonight — kale, chorizo and potato soup — would be a good weeknight option, though it was also quite satisfactory for a Sunday spent working on other projects at home. It’s also a good winter dish, which made it stand out from the tomato- and pepper-rich beauties that are going to have to wait until the Greenmarket is in full swing.

AddingKale3To make the soup I started with my prep: I rinsed, stemmed and chopped some kale, chopped two onions, minced two cloves of garlic, and diced two red potatoes, while Scott diced a couple of links of chicken sausage with jalapeno. (There was no actual chorizo at the grocery store I went to; this seemed the closest thing.) I heated some olive oil in a pot and sauteed the onions and AddingKalegarlic, then added the sausage and let that cook for a few minutes. Then I added the diced potatoes, salt and pepper, and some water, brought the mixture to a boil, and let it simmer for about 12 minutes. When the timer went off I stirred in the kale and let it cook for another five minutes, then dished up the soup.

This was a tasty dish. Actual StewInBowls3chorizo would have given it a different taste — a more rich, warm peppery heat instead of the sharp heat of the jalapeno — and probably have made the soup a little fattier, though not in a bad way. The flavors complemented one another well: rich onion, slightly bitter kale, mild potato, savory sausage. I was afraid the liquid would be too thin, but I think using broth instead of water would have overwhelmed the other flavors.

Verdict: Success. I’ll want to make this again at least once more before the end of the winter.