Split Pea Soup

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It’s not the most photogenic thing and I don’t have time to expound eloquently on its virtues but this split pea soup really hit the spot on a cold winter’s night. This is the first time I’ve made split pea soup in our pressure cooker and it worked out quite well. If you don’t have a pressure cooker this can easily be done on the stove top; it’ll just need to simmer for at least an hour, perhaps more.

What you need:

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. salt or to taste (depends on how much sodium is in your broth)

fresh ground pepper to taste

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

4 c. vegetable broth

2 c. water

2 c. split peas

What you do:

Saute onions, carrots and celery in olive oil until they’re just starting to get soft. Add garlic, salt, pepper, coriander and paprika and cook another minute. Then add the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Cover, bring to pressure and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes then allow for a natural release (though if you’re pressed for time a quick release should be fine). You could certainly do this in a slow cooker or on the stove top as well. We had ours over brown rice but you could serve it with any grain or just a nice piece of crusty bread.

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Mac & Cheese

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Mac & cheese (or pasta with some sort of creamy cheesy sauce) is a staple at our house and one that the kids love. An old standby (pictured above) is the “Cheezee Sauce” recipe from Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap. It’s quick to make and we usually add some peas or frozen spinach and pour it over pasta – a quick weeknight meal. For this, just add 2/3 c. nutritional yeast, 3 Tbs. cornstarch, 1 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder to a saucepan. Whisk in 2 c. water or plain unsweetened soy milk and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened. Then stir in 1 Tbs. olive oil, 2 tsp. lemon juice, 2 tsp. cider vinegar and 1 tsp. mustard.

Another Robin Robertson recipe we just tried recently was the Butternut Mac and Cheese from Vegan Without Borders. This ups the nutrition with the addition of cashews and butternut squash. It’s slightly more involved because it requires a blender and it has to bake for a short time but it still came together quickly and was quite delicious.

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I encourage you to give one of these a try or find your own favorite. Many vegan cookbooks have a faux cheese sauce recipe, or just Google “vegan mac and cheese” and you’re sure to find many options from which to choose.

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Spring Rolls

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Do you only have spring rolls when dining out at Chinese or Thai restaurants? Why not make them at home? It’s not as hard as you might think. The hardest part for some might be finding the spring roll wrappers but if you have an Asian market nearby it’s likely you can find them there (they’re in the freezer section of our local Asian market). We posted about spring rolls many times on our previous blog and this post has a bit of a recipe and some instructions for wrapping. It’s mostly cabbage, usually carrots, plus whatever else you want to throw in – tonight that happened to be tofu and kale. The key here is that if you’re nervous about or otherwise turned off by deep frying, well there’s another way. We deep fry these on occasion but they come out pretty good just by rolling them a little flat and frying in a shallow pan with a generous amount of canola oil. You can try baking them too.

It’s nice to have a good dipping sauce to go along with these and our usual recipe is to whisk together 1/3 c. apricot jam, 2 Tbs. soy sauce, 1 Tbs. rice vinegar, and 1 tsp. sesame oil. They can be a meal by themselves or you can serve them with some noodles or fried rice or whatever else suits your fancy.

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It had been quite a while since we made spring rolls but they used to be a regular go-to meal and I think they may become so again because they’re so delicious!

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Using what you’ve got, Part 1 – Just throw stuff together

While we love thumbing through cookbooks for new recipes to try (or pulling out our old favorites), the reality is that we just don’t have the time to do that very often. We’ll certainly post here about cookbooks or recipes we’ve found that we really like but our day to day meals are often whipped up on the fly with whatever we have on hand. I’ll admit that I tend to be one to cook more from recipes but Darlene is a master of cobbling together whatever we have in the fridge and the pantry and making it into a great meal. She’s taught me that meals don’t have to be elaborate to be satisfying and nutritious. Let’s take a look at a couple of recent examples of what I’m talking about. First up, the bowl (or plate in this case), which generally consists of a grain, a vegetable and some beans or tofu (or both) with a sauce or dressing of some sort.

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Here’s what’s on the plate, along with some ideas for how you could change it up.

  • Brown rice. We often cook a big pot of brown rice on the weekends and use it for a couple of meals during the week but if you haven’t done that and you don’t have the time to cook brown rice, how about quinoa?
  • Black beans. Just plain ‘ol beans that we cooked in our Instant Pot. Don’t have a fancy schmancy pressure cooker? No worries, just open up a can of any beans you have on hand.
  • Tofu, diced and fried in a little olive oil. You could leave this out entirely but if was a nice addition here.
  • Roasted butternut squash. A baked sweet potato would make a fine substitution, or change it up entirely and use steamed broccoli or roasted brussels sprouts or sauteed kale or any other vegetable under the sun. If you’re really in a rush, microwave some frozen broccoli. We almost always keep a bag of frozen broccoli on hand to add to a quick meal and frozen vegetables are still very nutritious.
  • This was all tied together with a ranch style dressing from Terry Hope Romero that Darlene found on-line. We almost always make our own dressings and you should too, if for no other reason than you’ll save money. Dreena Burton has quite a few dressing recipes in her cookbooks, as does Isa. And if you don’t want to go to the trouble of looking for a recipe just whisk together some olive oil, cider vinegar or lemon juice (or both), a bit of prepared mustard and salt and pepper to taste.

Here’s another example of throwing stuff together for a quick, satisfying meal – burritos.

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We almost always have tortillas on hand because the kids love burritos and quesadillas. And while there’s no shortage of burrito recipes available, I don’t think I’ve ever followed a recipe for a burrito. Here we have the black beans and rice again, cooked beforehand and at the ready, along with avocado, mango salsa and cashew sour cream. You could certainly use salsa from a jar and we do so regularly (especially in winter with a dearth of fresh tomatoes), but here Darlene made a nice quick salsa with a small can of diced tomatoes (drained), some frozen diced mango, diced onion, plus a little oil, cider vinegar, oregano and salt. For the “sour cream” we used the Cashew Crema recipe from Viva Vegan! and it’s very similar to this one from Oh She Glows. (One tip on this front: if a recipe calls for soaked cashews but you don’t have any that have been soaking, you can boil them for a few minutes and get similar results.)

Hopefully this post has inspired you to move beyond cooking from a recipe and into whipping up a quick meal with whatever you have on hand! (Just remember to always keep rice in your pantry and you’ll be well on your way.)

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Mitch’s Vegetarian Chili

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Here’s a recipe that goes back a very long time but we still make it on occasion – vegetarian chili from Mitch’s Tavern in Raleigh, NC. Tonight I experimented with making it in the pressure cooker. Check out our post on our previous blog for the original recipe (or get it straight from the Mitch’s Tavern site). If you have a pressure cooker it’s even easier. Here’s the variation I made tonight. I just put all these ingredients into our Instant Pot and cooked on high pressure for 20 minutes.

1/4 c. split peas
1/4 c. brown lentils
1 1/2 c. dried red beans, soaked for several hours and drained
4 c. chopped green cabbage
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2″ dice
4 c. water
4 medium carrots, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 tsp. dried basil
1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes

The chili was fabulous and so was the appetizer. We just got a good deal on a big bunch of plantains and I made tostones for the first time. I’ve fried ripe plantains many times before but I’ve never used them green. They’re less sweet this way but equally delicious. I used the recipe from Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Eats World, but if you don’t have that one just Google tostones and you’ll find many recipes.

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Vanilla Extract

vanilla_extractOur quart jar of vanilla extract is getting low so I ordered some more vanilla beans so we can start another one. Wait… vanilla extract by the quart? Isn’t that stuff super expensive? Not if you make it yourself. We posted about this on our previous blog but that was long ago so I thought it would be useful to go through it again. The short story is this: we get vanilla beans for a good price on ebay and soak them in inexpensive vodka. Let that sit for a while (at least a few weeks), shake the jar occasionally and voila, vanilla extract. And for a fraction of what it costs to buy it two ounces at a time at the store. There are many online sources for vanilla beans but we got ours from the Vanilla Products USA store on ebay and they even have some instructions for making extract – just chop about 30 vanilla beans, put them in a quart jar and fill with vodka. I also add a couple teaspoons sugar to cut the alcohol a bit. Then I put the jar in a cabinet and shake it every so often. We pour it off a little at a time into a smaller bottle and use it for all our baking needs!


Banana apple whole grain pancakes

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I really love pancakes. Fluffy pillows of grainy goodness. I can eat them any time of the day. As a special treat my mom used to make pancakes sometimes on the weekends. When I was old enough to cook for myself I helped make them also. I really love passing on a love of food to the kids. Food is such a great social binder and nourishes the soul as well as the body. Corny I know but it really is all that and more. On that note, my ingredients have changed a little bit since my early cooking days. I am on a mission lately to add more whole grains and take out the refined sugar. So here is my version of whole grain pancakes sweetened with pureed apples and bananas. Sort of smoothie meets whole grains. Feel free to substitute any grains you have on hand. I used ground oats and white whole wheat flour.

Banana apple whole grain pancakes

1 cup rolled oats, ground

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1/2 cup sunflower seeds, ground

2 tablespoons chia seed or flax seed, ground

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups almond hemp milk or other nondairy milk

1 medium apple peeled, cored and cut into slices

1 medium banana

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Coconut oil for frying

Grind the oats, sunflower seeds and chia in a food processor or blender. Add the white whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine. Puree the almond hemp milk, apple slices, banana. apple cider vinegar and vanilla in a blender. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix to combine. Add quarter cups of the batter to a cast iron skillet coated with oil. Fry a few minutes on one side. Flip and fry until both sides are golden brown and the center is done. Layer the pancakes with banana slices and blackberries. Top with maple syrup or my favorite, apple sauce. Enjoy.

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