Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beets me...

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I celebrated our anniversary by taking our own little eating tour of the Boston area. You know, he had me at "Honey, let's go eat for 8 hours straight..." I just knew he was the one for me :-)

One of the more memorable foods we tried that day was the beet potato latke at the Red Lentil in Watertown. These latkes were so delicious that, weeks later, I've been totally craving them. I mean, what's not to like? Fried+root vegetable=guaranteed awesome.

A lot of latke recipes call for the use of eggs as a binding agent, but I've been trying to go vegan for a while now, and I thought that beet latkes would be just fine without eggs. And I was right! This is where that big box of Ener-G egg replacer that's been chilling in the pantry forever came in seriously handy.

I got my recipe from here, but I changed it up a little to give it just a little more Indian flair. Kind of like a flat pakora. I absolutely LOVE Indian food. Pretty much, if you ask me where I want to go out to eat, I will most likely give you the name of a local Indian restaurant. And if you smell curry, it might be because I am standing next to you....

But without further ado, let's beet it!

Beet (and carrot) rockin' latkes

6 cups coarsely shredded beets/carrots ( I had 2 Godzilla-sized beets, which gave me about 5 cups shredded, and then I threw in 1 cup shredded carrots; your ratio may be different, but just make sure most of your 6 cups vegetables are beets)

6 scallions/green onions, chopped; green and white parts (less is fine if you're not an onion fan; but, as my boyfriend knows, I do like onions :-) )

8 Tbsp Gram/chickpea/besan flour You can find this in Indian food stores, or often on the international foods aisle of your supermarket; If you don't have it, all purpose flour will be just fine

1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground pepper
Ener-G egg replacer equivalent to 3 eggs
Canola oil, or other frying oil of choice (I wouldn't personally choose olive oil, as it has a low smoke point)

Some kind of chutney or spicy/sweet sauce for serving (the traditional latke condiments of applesauce or (vegan) sour cream might be very nice too

1) Put together your egg replacer mixture. It will mix better if you stir it and let it sit for a little while. Also, using warm water will help the mixture to go into solution more easily than using the cold stuff. The regular ratio per "egg" is 1 1/2 tsp powder to 2 Tbsp water, but I knew my beet mixture would be a bit liquidy, so I left out a little water; For the equivalent of 3 eggs, I used 4.5 tsp powder and 5 Tbsp water; Stir as well as you can (there may be some clumps, it's the nature of the beast), and then leave to sit for at least a few minutes

2) Coarsely shred your beets/carrots, either in a food processor with shredder attachment (definitely quickest) or with a hand grater. I mostly hand-shredded mine, but both methods work fine. Keep in mind though, don't wear your best shirt either way. Beets stain! Next, soak up a good part of the juice from the shredded veggies with paper towels, squeezing the mixture a bit. The veggies don't have to be bone dry. Mine weren't. I definitely don't have the patience for that BS when I'm hungry...Just use your best judgement, but soak through a few paper towels at least. You don't want your latkes to fall apart in the pan.

3) In a second bowl, stir/whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and other spices, then add this to the beets. Add your chopped scallions, and then the egg replacer. Stir carefully to fully combine. The flour is sneaky, so make sure it's all mixed in!

3) Line a baking sheet or some plates with a few layers of paper towel, and then heat a thin layer of oil in a frypan over medium heat. Drop the beet mixture by 1/4 cupfuls into the heated oil. Press them about as flat as a thick-ish pancake with the back of a spoon, and try to make sure they are an even thickness all around. Fry for 4-5 mins, and then flip over and cook 4-5 mins more. Try REALLY hard to resist the urge to flip them early. I know you want to peek underneath, I did too, but give them 4-5 mins. You may want to turn your heat down to the low side of medium now that the oil is hot.

4) Once your latkes are cooked, drain them on the paper towel. If you'd like to reheat them at a a later time, put them on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.

5) There was a celery/cilantro relish recipe at the above link, but I really didn't have fresh cilantro, so I kind of tried to make a celery "slaw" with some vegan mayo. I wasn't a huge fan of it actually (as pretty as it looks), so I mostly served the latkes with tamarind chutney, which I always have in my fridge at any given time. You can usually get tamarind, onion, coriander (cilantro) or mango chutney on the international aisle of your grocery store, and all of these would be great on the side of the beet latkes. I had some guacamole in the fridge too, and it wasn't too bad either. The Red Lentil served their latkes with cilantro vinaigrette and apricot marmalade. Some kind of sweetened mustard could be awesome too.

Being a serious Indian-foodie, I made a coconut milk yogurt and champagne-mango lassi to drink alongside my latkes. Champagne mangos are basically like the best mangos I've ever had in my life. They are also called Ataulfo mangos, and I got mine at Whole Foods. Suffice to say, yeah, they're awesome. I could eat one for dessert, and I do not say that at all lightly.

But back to the point...

Lassis are really great, cooling, yogurt-based drinks that are wonderful to have with spicy Indian foods. Using coconut milk yogurt instead of the dairy version is a really great way to veganize a lassi without feeling like you've lost anything. Blend a cup of ice, then add a couple of chopped mangos and 1/2-1 cup of plain coconut milk yogurt to taste. Add a little more ice if you like a little more liquidy-ness. As you can tell, I actually liked my lassi so much that I drank half of it before I remembered to take the picture. Vote of confidence right there...

Anyway, enjoy guys.

And Happy spring!

Monday, March 14, 2011

3.14 Happy Pi Day!

Ah 3.14.

A day when we can at last pay proper tribute to the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.......

.......A day when geeks, nerds, and theoretical mathematicians may skip happily hand in hand, unabashedly celebrating their love for everyone's favorite infinite number.

I hope you don't think me too "irrational" (sorry, pi joke), but since this day comes but once a year, I thought it best to show my respect for this humble but transcendent(al) number in the best way I know how: eating.

I made these black and white cookies according to the recipe in the freaking awesome book, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I piped on the pi symbols freehand with a bit of parchment paper I rigged up, Wilton style.

Fun fact: Did you know that computers have calculated pi to over 1 trillion decimal places?

I wish I could say that the first batch of these cookies came out as perfectly round as the circles for which pi exists, but the reality was more like this:

In several layers of irony, I put the incorrect "ratio" of baking soda to, well, everything else in the batter - because I wasn't paying enough attention. And, because I used too much baking soda, the cookies melted all over the bottom of the oven, necessitating more baking soda to be poured over the burned bits to get rid of the odiferousness. Yes, I am a master of irony².

But anyway, I hope that you and yours have an "infinitely" enjoyable Pi Day. If you do not celebrate in the traditional sense (i.e. by eating pi(e) and walking around in a circle), I hope that you take a few minutes to read about this beautiful and curvaceous symbol at some point today, or even send a Pi e-card to those who you love like a mathematical constant.

Big ups to physicist Larry Shaw for inventing this holiday back in '89, and making everyone's life at least 3.14 times more enjoyable.

From my circle to yours happy March 14th!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Try a little maple, Sugar...

photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt, flickr

Growing up here in New England, it's sometimes easy to forget just how much history this place has. From the early Native American tribes who made their lives here, to the first settlements of the New England colonies, there are reminders everywhere about what it must have been like to live here hundreds of years ago.

This weekend, I took to the woods for a somewhat impromptu look at the process of maple sugaring. The Rhode Island Audubon Society offers a little weekend tour this time of year, and I'm sure you could find something comparable in just about every state in the Northeast.

During this quick and informative tour, I found out just how easy it can be to make this sweet treat right in your own back yard (or close to it). I promise that once you've tasted real, lovingly-made maple syrup, you'll be hard pressed to return to the mass-produced brands at the supermarket.

It turns out that this is pretty much the only time of year you can tap maple trees for their sweet, pancake-loving nectar. The freezing temperatures of mid-winter keep the internal moisture content of the trees down too low for liquid to move. When it gets warmer in the late spring and summer, the liquid coming from the trees will be too bitter. For the proper running of the sap to take place, a tree needs below freezing temperatures at night, and above freezing temperatures during the day. Interesting, huh?

Our guide shows us how to identify the various species of maple trees, referencing both their leaves and their branches.

Both the Native American tribes and the New England colonists found an important foodstuff in the sap of maple trees. With a shortage of refined foods, especially sugars, the native population of New England was pretty healthy. Not only did they tend to have longer life-spans than Europeans of this period, but they were also taller too. Early "old world" accounts of native peoples mentioned notably "tall" individuals. Our guide mentioned that it was not uncommon for both native women and men of this area to be 6 feet tall or more. Native peoples did, of course, consume meat protein, but they also had a rich and varied plant-food component to their diet. And, as all of us veggie-people know, plant foods can make you plenty big and strong!

Through trade with native peoples, the colonists were introduced to maple sugar. It was much more easily produced than common table sugar, and much cheaper too. So the colonists used it happily, and incorporated it into their recipes. Even today, maple-flavored (and maple-friendly) foods are quite associated with New England. Johnny cakes anyone? Maybe some hasty pudding?

Funnily enough though, maple sap doesn't taste like much right out of the tree. One of our Audubon guides encouraged us to taste the fresh stuff from of one of the taps. It really just tastes like very slightly sweet water. To give you an idea why, it takes about 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to boil down to one gallon of maple syrup.

But boy is it worth it!

I am really hoping that I'll be able to make maple syrup from my own tree someday. But I better start now, because, from what I remember from the tour, it could take 25 years for a maple tree to grow large enough to be able to be tapped to make syrup. So plan ahead guys!

To see more of my adventures in sugaring, please continue reading below.

Happy eating all!

The boiling down process should only be attempted outside, unless you want to turn your living room into a sauna; Note: turkey friers can be put to better use without the turkey!

Note to self (and others): Choose proper footwear for tramping around damp woodland as the snow melts. Just saying, these are supposed to be very light gray faux suede shoes...

A note to vegan and vegetarian maple-sugar enthusiasts: I've done a little online reading about maple syrup, and it turns out that some commercial syrup producers may use de-foaming agents in their boiling-down process. Sometimes, this may include an animal fat such as butter. If you are able to get your maple syrup from a local producer, I am sure that they would be more than happy to tell you if animal products are part of their production process. A phone call or an email might be all you need. And, once you find a producer you feel comfortable with, you are all set. Otherwise, online buying might be an option. Or hey, why not come see us up here in New England? We'd be happy to have you! Or if you want to try your hand at making your own syrup, so much the better.

If you do plan to tap your trees to make maple syrup, it is advisable to read up on it first. Trees have to be a certain width around in order to be safely tapped. Tapping trees that are too small could kill or injure the tree and end your sugaring adventure too soon. Your local hardware or garden store might be able to give you some tips on this process if you ask. Your local library might also have books on the subject. And God knows there's always the internet!

I hope you've enjoyed this taste of nature's bounty, and here's hoping that organizations like the Audubon society keep doing such an awesome job of preserving information like this. We all know that the supermarket isn't the only place food comes from after all....

Happy sugaring all, and see you for breakfast!