Apr 12, 2015

dump dinner: pasta puttanesca

After a bit of research into what dump dinners actually are, I've discovered that there are basically four kinds of "dumps:"

1. Slow cooker meals
2. Pressure cooker meals
3. Oven meals
4. Stove-top meals

In each instance, the ingredients ideally go straight into the cooking vessel and after heat and time, out comes a meal ready for the table.

The distinct omission in these kinds of recipes is the lack of flavor development that comes with something like sauteing, for instance. You just cannot get the same flavor from an onion that you merely boil instead of cook in a bit of fat. 

Since I am not cooking with oil for the time being (trying out the Forks Over Knives, Engine 2 Diet and McDougall plan) I figured this is the best time to try my hand at real, true Dump Dinners. That means no sauteeing and everything goes in at once.

Making a dump pasta dinner was my next challenge. Instead of cooking everything separately, I made this meal entirely in the oven. If any pasta dish is great as a dump meal, it would be Pasta Puttanesca. This dish is a tomato and olive based pasta meal.

I used white pasta here because I just wasn't sure how the meal would cook up, but since this went really well, I will make subsequent pasta dishes with whole grain pasta instead.

In my recipe I used extra firm tofu, but I am recommending baked tofu instead, although you could omit the tofu completely; the recipe is flexible.

Without further chatter from me, below is my take on the pasta dish in true dump style.

Pasta Puttanesca
Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes for assembly and pre-heat, 5 minutes of sit time
Cook Time: 50 minutes

1 (15 to 18-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained
2 ½ cups vegetable broth
1 (4 to 5-ounce) jar kalamata olives, drained
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons tomato paste or ¼ cup tomato concentrate
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¾ teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
10 ounces pasta (increase broth to 3 cups if using whole wheat pasta)
1 (10-ounce) package baked tofu, cut into ¼-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil, optional
2 tablespoons minced parsley, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 400-degrees F. Transfer the tomatoes to a large oven-safe pot, breaking up the tomatoes as you add them. Add the broth, olives, capers, paste. oregano, salt and black pepper. Stir well to incorporate the tomato paste into the water. Add the pasta, tofu and garlic. Make sure all the pasta is submerged in the liquid. Cover the pot tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
2. Uncover the pot carefully, stir the pasta and continue to bake until the pasta is tender, about 20 more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley, if using.

Quick Tip: Preheat oven while you chop and assemble the dish.

© 2015 Copyright Zsu Dever. All rights reserved.

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Apr 9, 2015

dump dinner: ginger butternut and fennel wild rice

This is a dish that I will term a 2-Step DD (Dump Dinner) because it needs two kinds of cooking techniques.

While the recipe is still easy, as in prep time being around 10 minutes, it does require the wild rice to be cooked on the stove top and the vegetables to be roasted in the oven. The dish is ready in 40 minutes, including roasting time because the wild rice has an overnight soak.

I would say that the most difficult part of this recipe is tackling the butternut squash. My method for preparing this often imagined difficult-to-handle winter squash is to cut off the top stem-end and divide the squash into two pieces, right where the bulb meets the long neck.

Next, I peel the neck-end of the squash using a vegetable peeler and chop as needed. That leaves the time-consuming part of the squash to deal with: the bulb, seeded-end. This I reserve for another dish or another time.

I cut it in half, seed, place cut side down and bake until tender. Then I season and either scoop out the orange flesh or serve as is with a spoon. To peel, seed, and chop the curved bulb end takes a lot of time and effort and is best left as its own separate meal.

So, preheat your oven and by the time it's ready, your squash will be, too.

Ginger Butternut and Fennel Wild Rice
Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes of chopping, 10 minutes pre-heat, overnight soak
Cook Time: 35 minutes

4 cups shaved fennel
3 cups ½-inch dice butternut squash
½-inch piece ginger, minced
½ cup vegetable broth
Sea salt and black pepper

1 ½ cups brown and wild rice blend, soaked overnight and drained
1 cup vegetable broth
½-inch piece ginger, minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
Water, as needed
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
4 scallions, minced

1. Vegetables: Preheat oven to 450-degrees F. Combine the fennel, squash, ginger and broth on a baking sheet. Season with salt and black pepper and bake until tender, about 30 minutes.
2. Rice: Combine the drained rice, broth, ginger, salt and enough water as needed to cover the rice by 1-inch in a medium pot. Cook the rice until tender, about 15 minutes over a strong simmer. Drain the rice, return to the pot. Drape a kitchen towel over the rice and steam for 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the beans, scallions and roasted vegetables and season with salt and black pepper, as needed.

Quick Tip: Preheat oven while you chop the vegetables.

© 2015 Copyright Zsu Dever. All rights reserved.

Apr 6, 2015

dump dinner: lentil and kale stew

Since my new book, Vegan Bowls, B&N / Amazon, will be published soon (although not soon enough, if you ask me!), I am no longer really focusing on bowl recipes - which are flavor-packed complete meals in a bowl. Well, that's not really true as bowl foods are simply amazing because they are no-brainers - you don't have to think of something else to make to balance out the meal.

The truth is that I am still making bowls, just not telling the family that they are "bowls." As you can imagine, during recipe development and testing, bowls were at every meal, at least 3 meals, but at times up to 4 or 5 meals!

Thanks to the advice of Tami Noyes, of The Great Vegan Protein cookbook, I am the proud owner of an Instant Pot pressure cooker. If you purchase one, get the coupon code - worth around $50!

This machine is amazing! My favorite aspect of this thing is that the pot is stainless steel. I had an electric pressure cooker in the past which I used only seldom because the pot was nonstick. This is an electric pressure cooker that is also a slow cooker, steamer and yogurt maker. I love it!

Now that Vegan Bowls is almost ready, I can get back to experimenting and cooking with my Instant Pot. Of course, you don't need an Instant Pot in order to cook pressure cooker recipes, but since I have it, I will be using it more often now.

I'd like to start a series of Astonishingly Easy Dinners or Dump Dinners using either a slow cooker or pressure cooker.  I recently saw a commercial for Dump Dinners and looked though the preview and the reviews on Amazon. Just as the commercial indicated, the recipes were based on processed ingredients and were nothing to write home about.

Still, I liked the idea of just dumping food into a pot and letting it go. There are some awesome books on the market now, like Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson, if you are looking for a great slow cooker book, but I'd like to start a series that is even easier than Robin's. Quite the challenge, I know, because I also want to make everything taste like you really spent a lot of time preparing things.

Dump Dinners is not a new concept, as evidenced by a quick Amazon search:


Unfortunately, not only are they not vegan, but the super processed aspect - dumping frozen raviolis and jarred tomato sauce into a pot, for instance - turned me off. I want more scratch-made recipes that are healthy, use less plastic (the plastic that ingredients are packaged in, especially processed ingredients) and are made with more whole foods. My first offering in this new series I'll temporarily dub "Dump Dinners" is French Lentil and Kale Stew.

French Lentil and Kale Stew
Serves 4
Prep Time: 8 minutes of chopping
Cook Time: 35 minutes

4 medium carrots, chopped
3 spring onions, or 1 large yellow or red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable broth or 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 cup French lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 pound kale, tough stems removed and chopped
6 cups vegetable broth
Sea salt and black pepper

1. Heat a large pot over medium heat or set the Instant Pot to saute. Add the carrots, onions, garlic and jalapeno to the pot. Add splashes of vegetable broth as needed to keep the vegetables from burning. Stir in the bay leaves and cumin seeds. Stir and cook for 5 minutes.
2. Add the lentils, kale and broth. Cover and cook over medium heat until the lentils and kale are tender, about 30 minutes. Alternatively, using a pressure cooker, cook the stew for 20 minutes under High Pressure.
3. Season the soup with salt and black pepper, as needed. Serve with whole grain bread and/or cayenne pepper.

Quick Tip: Chop near the stove or the pressure cooker. If using oil, add the oil to the pot first. Add the vegetables as they are chopped. If using vegetable broth to saute, add splashes of the broth as needed.

© 2015 Copyright Zsu Dever. All rights reserved.

Apr 5, 2015

chile relleno! vegan!

If you've been under a boulder the past few weeks, you would not be up to date on the epic chickpea brine discovery, so I'll give a quick run-down for you.

Some clever genius has discovered that the annoying foam that our beans produce during cooking can whip up into vegan egg whites. Let that sink in. What have you missed eating or making since you've become vegan? Chances are good, they contain some sort of egg product: macaroons, angel food cake, floating islands, among other sweets that conventionally are either made completely of eggs or contain a significant amount of eggs.

While I haven't tested this using freshly cooked bean liquid, this process has been proven to work with canned or boxed chickpeas or white beans. Although I've been cooking up batches of beans using my Instant Pot, for this special occasion, I purchased a box of chickpeas. A few, actually.

I'm not sure exactly who came up with this first - - you know the type, looks at the liquid drained from beans and thinks, "hmmm, that looks like egg whites!" but I am grateful. I will try to give credit where I think it might belong. If you know of someone who also came up with this at about the same time (it's possible - two different people invented calculus at the same time while occupying two different parts of the world), I'll add them to the list.

Plant Revolution (French)
Vegan Cookery

Since my facebook page has blow up with all kinds of vegan delicacies using bean liquid, I, of course, could not be left out of the fun.

Chocolate Chip Cookies. Photo courtesy of Somer McCowen

Vedged Out: Chocolate Chip Cookies
Floral Frosting: Macaroons
Seitan is My Motor: Marshmallows

Unlike my fellow bloggers and FB friends, my mind instantly flew to making Chile Rellenos, a chile stuffed with cheese and battered in an egg-flour mixture before being fried. That's right, not being one with much of a sweet tooth, I was itching to try my hand at making a fluffy, crispy stuffed pepper, Tex-Mex style.

The recipe below is my first attempt at making the rellenos; let me tell 'ya, they kick some royal Tex-Mex butt. Some tweaking with the ratio of whipped bean brine to flour would make this even better, but for the debut, this was an amazing Chile Relleno.

Chile Relleno
Serves 4

Sauce: (optional)
1 (15.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups vegetable broth

4 medium to large poblano peppers
1 cup shredded vegan cheese (combination of different varieties is best)
4 (4-inch) wooden skewers
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Oil, for frying

1 1/4 cups chickpea or white bean brine (liquid from 2 cans of beans)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1. Sauce: (Optional) Combine the tomatoes and broth in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Cook the sauce until thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Blend using an immersion blender and keep warm.
2. Chiles: Cook the peppers over a flame or directly over the stove top burners, until charred well. There is no need to completely char the peppers. Transfer the peppers to a large bowl and cover with a lid. Steam the peppers for 20 minutes.
3. Peel the peppers using your hands. Do not rinse under water.  Make a slit down the side of the pepper about 2-inches long. Remove the seeds as much as possible, but leave the stem intact. Add about ¼-cup cheese inside the pepper and close the pepper using a skewer. Clean and stuff all the peppers and roll each pepper in the flour. Set aside.
4. Heat about 2-inches of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add three popcorn kernels to the oil; when the kernels pop the oil is ready.
5. Batter: Add the batter to a large bowl and using an electric hand mixer beat the brine until thick and stiff, about 4 minutes. Add the paprika, salt and black pepper. Whisk until the flour is incorporated.
6. Place a pepper into the batter and using a spoon coat the pepper on all sides. Fry the pepper in the hot oil until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Drain the pepper on paper towels and season with salt. Serve with the sauce.

© 2015 Copyright Zsu Dever. All rights reserved.

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Apr 1, 2015

greek pita with fennel and spring onion

I simply adore fennel that is shaved and sauteed until it practically melts in your mouth. Really delicious! I have a few bulbs of the vegetable in my fridge and received some spring onions in my CSA box yesterday; it was time to make good use of them.

Since I wanted something relatively easy and not have to make anything too fussy, I decided on a Greek-inspired pita sandwich. It was ready relatively fast and it was a breath of fresh air - anything with lemon and fennel will usually bring that to mind.

If you are leery of using fennel, fear not. Cut off about 1/4-inch of the base (where it is browning) and simply use a mandoline to shave the bulb into almost paper thin slices. No need to remove the core since you are cooking it until the fennel is soft. Use the mandoline to shave the onions, too, and they will cook up tender and sweet in no time.

I used Beyond Meat Grilled Strips for ease, but homemade seitan would work well, too. Even portobello mushrooms would rock this recipe; be sure to remove the gills of the mushroom first by scrapping it out with a spoon.

I made the hummus using the recipe from Everyday Vegan Eats, which Vegan Heritage Press has published right here, but I added about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika to the mixture. I also didn't bother removing the skins of the chickpeas this time and just let the machine run a bit longer for a smoother puree. Sometimes, speed and ease is of the essence.

Greek Pita with Fennel and Spring Onion
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon fresh or dried Rosemary
12 ounces Beyond Meat strips or chopped seitan

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 spring onions, shaved
1 medium fennel, shaved
Sea salt and black pepper

Pita bread
Hummus (stir in ½ teaspoon smoked paprika per 1 cup of hummus)

1. Protein: Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, and rosemary in a shallow dish. Add the protein and season with salt and black pepper  and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the protein strips only. Cook until golden on both sides, about 3 minutes. Add the marinade, including the garlic, and cook until the garlic is golden. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Vegetables: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel, cover, and cook until completely tender, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring as needed. Season with salt and black pepper.
3. Assembly: Toast the pita, cut in half and split into pockets. Spread about 2 tablespoons of hummus in the pockets, add protein strips and a generous portion of the sauteed vegetables. Serve.

Tip: Cook the vegetables while the protein marinates. Transfer the vegetables to a container and cook the protein in the same skillet.

© 2015 Copyright Zsu Dever. All rights reserved.