BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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No Matter How You Slice It

Timing is everything when it comes to food reviews. Trends are as unpredictable as the weather, turning the latest and greatest innovations into old-hat just a month down the road. This unstoppable phenomenon has never been more clear to me as I flip through old files, discovering half-baked reviews from products first sampled almost a year ago (!) now. Where did the time go, and more importantly, why didn’t I share this gem sooner?

Daiya is practically a household name a this point, a pivotal player in the vegan cheese game. No other dairy-free shreds have achieved mainstream approval, nor prevalence, quite like their white and orange strands, initially making a splash back in 2009 as the very first meltable option. Not content to just ride the wave of this immense success, they’ve continued to innovate ever since that great success, unleashing cheesy goodness throughout countless other prepared foods. Their latest offering to cheese-loving dairy detractors shines just as brilliantly: Slices, imitating the flavors of cheddar, swiss, and provolone.

Provolone-Style slices were the only variety I could get my hungry mouth around at the time, but considering their culinary potential, the other two are worth seeking out for a second round. These are not fine cheeses you’d want to eat cold, plain, or otherwise uncooked. Surprisingly fragile and prone to crumbling straight from the package, the flavor doesn’t impress right off the bat. Borderline bland, with a subtle sweetness, these slices are definitely not meant for topping crackers. Where they really come to life is under a hot broiler, melted down to gooey, creamy, and yes, stretchy sheets. Mild but with a pronounced tang and satisfying salty accent, they’re appropriately rich, imparting an addictive sort of decadent fattiness upon any dish. Though it didn’t seem like a winner at first, I found myself increasingly taken with this simple cheesy pleasure. In fact, my tasting notes conclude with the declaration that the provolone option is the “holy grail of vegan cheese.” Overenthusiastic hyperbole aside, these are darned good slices.

But of course, I would never recommend eating them outside of a hot dish, which is why I heartily endorse the equally savory, slightly indulgent cheesesteak sandwich pictured above. Soy curls soaked in umami-packed mushroom broth make up the “meat” of the matter, tossed with lightly charred onions and roasted peppers, all smothered under a blanket of that prize-worthy provolone cheese. Altogether, it’s the kind of dish you could use to convert meat-lovers, cheese-lovers, and generally picky omnivores alike. So go ahead, give in to your cravings because now it’s effortless to keep them vegan!

Vegan Cheesesteak

1 1/2 Cups (About 2.8 – 3 Ounces) Dry Soy Curls
1 1/2 Cups Mushroom Broth

4 Teaspoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Thinly Sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, Roasted and Thinly Sliced
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
1 Tablespoon All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Reserved Mushroom Broth
1 Tablespoon Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce

3 Hoagie Rolls, Split and Toasted
9 Slices Provolone-Style Daiya Cheese

Begin by placing the dry soy curls in a large bowl and covering them with warm mushroom broth. Let them soak for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the soy curls are fully re-hydrated and tender. Pour off but reserve any excess liquid.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onion and saute, stirring often, until aromatic browned around the edges. Add the bell pepper, oregano and pepper and continue cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted and soft; about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle the vegetables with flour and stir to coat. Gently pour in 1/4 cup of the reserved broth along with the soy sauce, bringing the mixture up to a simmer. After another two minutes, remove the pan from the heat.

To assemble your sandwiches, divide the soy curl filling between your three toasted rolls and lay three provolone slices on top of each. Run them all under the broiler for about 2 – 3 minutes, until the cheese is perfectly melted and gooey all over. Dig in immediately!

Makes 3 Sandwiches

Printable Recipe


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The Onion Grass is Always Greener

This spring has been a temperamental one, no doubt about it. Gardening ventures have been unsurprisingly stymied by unexpected cold fronts and unreliable rains. Even so, by mid-May, it’s reasonable to expect some sort of visible progress out there in the vegetable patch. Nearby friends boast impressive flowers and a few hearty vines, bearing the promise of a fruitful harvest soon to come. All we have are chives. But oh, what lush, long, and prolific chives we have! Shooting up faster than they can be mowed down, these edible weeds are beginning to present a real threat to the surrounding plant life. Choking off sunlight for the smaller sprouts while edging closer into their territory, they’re the only things that seem to be thriving in spite of the elements. Even after plucking a bushel of the slender green blades, a whole field still remains to be eaten, so it’s high time those chives get put to proper use. If the other seedlings are ever going to break through the earth, I had better start making space!

Initially whipping the fine onion grasses into a basic pesto formula, it dawned on me that I had no idea what to do with it next. Should I just spread it on bread and call it a day? Would it be better mixed into pasta? Still in the teeth of final exams, complicated preparations were out of the picture, which brought me to my favorite default option: Soup. Keep it chilled for those warmer days or throw it on the stove the next time a frost warning comes along, since it tastes just as bright, fresh, and comforting either way. The whole thing comes together in a matter of minutes, and since it utilizes a bare minimum of ingredients, it’s the perfect spring soup, no matter how pitiful the growing conditions.

Chive Pesto Soup

2.5 Ounces Fresh Chives
2 Tablespoons Prepared or Finely Minced Fresh Horseradish
1/4 Cup Raw Sunflower Seeds
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
3 – 5 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 3/4 – 2 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 Cups Cooked Beans*
1/2 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt

*I used one 12-ounce package of Trader Joe’s Melodious Blend, which includes green garbanzo beans, red lentils, and brown lentils. Any blend or single varietal will work just as well though! I would recommend either white beans or regular chickpeas as my second and third choices, personally.

Snip the chives into short 1-inch lengths and toss them into your food processor. They need to be broken down somewhat before you start to blend, because I find that the long pieces will just wrap themselves around the motor without getting chopped otherwise. Add in the horseradish, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice as well. Pulse the machine repeatedly to combine. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically, ensuring that everything gets incorporated. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified and fairly smooth. It doesn’t need to be a perfect puree, since a bit of texture will add more body to the soup, but make sure there are no remaining whole seeds or long strands of chives remaining.

At this point, you can transfer the pesto to a jar and save it for up to a week, if you’d like. To proceed with the soup, place it in a medium pot and whisk in 1 3/4 cups of the stock. Stir in the beans and salt, to taste. Adjust the amount of liquid if you’d like the soup to be slightly thinner. Either chill for 1 hour before serving for a more refreshing bowlful, or pop it on the stove for about 5 minutes to heat through, to serve it warm.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Fun with Fondant

For someone who loves making layer cakes, my decorating skills are fairly deplorable. Sloppy, crumb-flecked swaths of frosting make up the base of every creation, a veritable ocean of sugary waves caught in a tsunami, leaping higher and rougher with every turn of the lazy Susan. Carefully fitted piping bags save me from utter embarrassment, covering up the worst of my frosting offenses, but even then my ability to create edible art is severely limited. Seashell borders? Simple rosettes? Done and done. Anything fancier and you’re out of luck. I can’t begin to recall how many grand plans for grand, sky-high layer cakes have turned into plain little cupcakes because of these shortcomings. The basic swirl is one technique I’ve managed to master after eight years of practice.


Naked Mint-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (The “Before” Shot)

Considering my difficulty in this edible art form, I don’t know why I didn’t investigate different options sooner. Fondant has seen a huge rise in popularity over the years thanks to reality TV; every bakery special enough to get a slot in prime time seems to specialize in the stuff, peddling what seems to be more fondant than actual cake. Now it’s a startling rarity to find a wholly buttercream-covered confection, especially on the large scale. That said, it needn’t be as intimidating, as difficult, or as tasteless as detractors [myself included] frequently grouse.

Thanks to the kindness of Yolli, I was granted the gift of a few goodies to play with. Instantly, I was drawn to the enigma that is ready-to-roll fondant. Some contain gelatin, but those featured in the shop clearly list ingredients and even go so far as to label themselves as “suitable for vegetarians.” Though homemade vegan fondant is certainly possible, I wouldn’t venture to say that it’s either quick or easy. These colored rectangles of sugar dough take a huge amount of hassle out of the equation.

Even with the aide of meticulously designed fondant cutters, my first few flowers were laughably bad. I can’t say that practice made perfect, but I quickly saw the results improve with every additional petal. Most surprising of all was the flavor: Not dreadful! Sure, it’s mostly sweet and bland, but not nearly as loathsome as so many pastry aficionados claim, and quite enjoyable once dry and crunchy. Consider me a convert.

I would hardly consider myself an expert after just one attempt at sculpting, but there were a few tips that stood out in my mind as helpful hints to share with prospective sugar crafters…

  • Start small, stay small. Especially when you’re modeling individual pieces, rather than working on a big sheet to cover a cake, the key to fondant success is to only work with as much material as you can fit in your hand at one time. For all six flowers I created, including all of their multiple layers, a scant marble-sized piece was more than enough to do the job. Excess fondant dries out quickly, especially once rolled thin, making it crackle when re-worked and generally difficult to manage. After about 3 – 4 hours in a dry place, the pieces will completely harden like air-drying modeling clay.
  • There is definitely such a thing as being too thin. Roll out the sheets of fondant to perhaps a millimeter or two thicker than you’d like the final piece to be, because you’ll be stretching it subtly as you shape it. It may not sound like a lot on paper, but when you’re dealing with such fragile pieces, it makes a world of difference. This is especially true of bigger sheets that are used to blanket an entire cake. Corners and edges put a lot of stress on the plasticized sugar, so allow those pieces much greater girth than you would want for finer, smaller ornamentation.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time. Estimate that it will take at least an hour longer than you’d prefer, and then you might make a closer estimate of what sort of time is require to complete the job. Patience is critical; rushed sculpting is guaranteed to look sloppy, no matter how experienced the sugar artist is.
  • Be liberal with your use of confectioner’s sugar. Rather than flouring your counters before rolling out, it’s vital that the fondant is rolled out in confectioner’s sugar to prevent it from sticking to the counter. Excess sugar is easily absorbed into the dough, leaving no trace of the white powder in the end. Going too lightly on the application will lead to a sticky, frustrating mess. Don’t forget to dust the top of your fondant rounds, the rolling pin, and any cutting tools, too.
  • Toothpicks are your best tools. Keep plenty of them on hand to help punch out shapes that cling to the insides of cutters, carve out subtle impressions on leaves, and poke indentations or holes, depending on what you want to craft. They’re cheap, accessible, and helpful in any project. You don’t need to go out and buy a whole arsenal of specialty stamps and cutters; small cookie cutters work just as well, and provide a greater range of shapes in general.
  • Just try it! I’m terrible at sculpting, no two ways about it, but practice, sticking with simple shapes, and not over-thinking the process can create some sweet results.


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Straight From the Heart

National Salad Month may not get the same fanfare as other, more decadent food holidays, but it’s about time that all changed. After all, salad isn’t limited to the sad, pale iceberg mixtures most of the country associates with the word. Salad can truly be a mixture of anything, nebulously defined only as a mixture containing a specified ingredient served with a dressing. Restrictive? Bland? If you think salads are boring, then you’re just not tossing them right.

Truth be told, I would have had no idea that salads got a whole calendar month of celebration if not for the friendly reminder sent out by Driscoll’s and California Endive Farms. Salads of some variety make an appearance on my table every single day, so their offer of free greenery and berries was one I couldn’t resist.

Hemming and hawing over the best way to feature these ingredients without going with the typical endive boat presentation, it seemed an impossible task to pin down the perfect salad composition, considering the endless options. Ultimately, it was a combination of Mother’s Day approaching and the realization that I had a whole lot of heart[s] that inspired this dainty combination. Hearts are a surprisingly common ingredient in my kitchen once I began to riffle through the pantry, found in the form of artichokes, hearts of palm, hemp, and the endive itself. A bright, punchy, yet delicate dressing of grapefruit and cayenne gives the salad some kick, without smothering the vegetables’ subtle nuances. Of course, the “cherry on top” is actually a strawberry in this case, cut into sweet heart shapes.

It’s the extra little touches that go a long way, so although it would taste just as good with plain old strawberry slices, take an extra two minutes to show mom that you care.

Heart-Felt Endive Salad

4 Red and/or Green Endive Hearts
1 14-Ounce Can Quartered Artichoke Hearts, Drained
1 14-Ounce Can Hearts of Palm, Drained, Halved or Quartered if Large
4 Red and/or Green Endive Hearts
1/2 Cup Fresh Strawberries, Cut into Heart Shapes
1 – 2 Tablespoons Hemp Hearts
Fresh Chives, Thinly Sliced
Fresh Basil

Dressing:

2 Tablespoons Grapefruit Juice
2 Teaspoons Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Cayenne Pepper

Prepare the dressing first so that it’s ready to go when you are. Simply whisk the grapefruit juice, maple syrup, and mustard together in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking vigorously to emulsify. Season with salt and add cayenne pepper to taste. Set aside.

Cut off and discard the woody bottoms, separating the leaves of the endive. Toss them into a large bowl along with the artichokes and hearts of palm. To cut your strawberries into heart shapes, begin by slicing them in half, and then cut a triangular notch out of the top. You can further shave down the sides to round them out if desired, but that starts to get a bit fussy, if you ask me. Add the berries in as well, along with the hemp hearts. Drizzle in the dressing, toss thoroughly to combine and coat all of the vegetables. Finish with the fresh herbs, roughly tearing the basil leaves if large. Serve immediately.

Printable Recipe

Driscoll’s and California Endive Farms sent me free produce but did not pay for nor require coverage. All opinions and recipes remain solely my own.


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No Use Crying Over Melted Ice Cream

What initially looked like a terrible tragedy, a loss of incomprehensible proportions, turned out to be happy accident in the end. It was an average day, punctuated by various chores and assignments, with a considerable grocery shopping expedition in between. Distracted by all the to-dos and a rapidly shrinking timeline, something was bound to get overlooked. It’s just a sad shame that it had to be the ice cream.

Tucked haphazardly into the fridge and not the freezer, hidden slightly behind a bushy clump of kale, there it remained for a full day before my grave error had been realized. By then it was far too late, the previously frozen dessert fully liquified into a pale white puddle, sloshing around freely within the container. Re-churning the mess in my ice cream maker did cross my mind, but no doubt the texture would never be quite the same. Immediately searching for a solution, loath to think that such a precious treat would be wasted because of a careless mistake, my thoughts turned to the possibilities of a little kitchen alchemy. Melted ice cream is no more than non-dairy milk, sweetener, and some sort of thickener, so why couldn’t it function as such in another application?

Proving that the sum is so often greater than its parts, this humble pie requires a mere seven ingredients, from crust to filling, thanks to the convenient combination neatly packed up in the form of vegan ice cream. Strawberries and cream are a classic duo in the first place, and they truly shine together in this brilliantly simple ode to spring. The only baking required is a brief flash in the oven to set the crust, but this can be further simplified with a ready-made rendition if you’re especially pressed for time. Even more impressive than this recipe’s effortlessly delicious outcome is its versatility, easily adaptable for any season. Swap out the berries for just about any fresh fruit that’s ripe and ready, such as peaches or apricots in the summer, pumpkin puree in the fall, baked apples or pears in the winter; the potential for different flavors is practically endless.

But for now, I’m sticking with strawberry since spring is in the air and berries are on the table. Another serendipitous opportunity to come out of this initial disaster is that it became an ideal entry to the Spring Fling Dairy-Free Recipe Contest hosted by So Delicious and Go Dairy Free. Even if it doesn’t win any prizes, this quick save is definitely a winner by me. With this foolproof formula under my belt, next time, I might even let the ice cream melt on purpose.

Strawberry-Cream Pie

Vanilla Cookie Crust:

5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 1/2 Cups Finely Ground Vanilla Wafer Cookie Crumbs

Strawberry Cream Filling:

1 Pound Fresh Strawberries
1 1/2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 1/2 Teaspoons Agar Powder
1 Pint So Delicious Vanilla Coconut, Almond, or Soy Ice Cream, Melted

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the melted margarine or coconut oil with the cookies in a large bowl, stirring thoroughly to completely moisten every last crumb. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch pie pan and use your hands to press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides. If it’s too sticky to handle with ease, lightly moisten your hands before proceeding. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool while you move on to the filling.

Wash, hull, and roughly slice the strawberries before tossing them into your blender along with all of the remaining ingredients. Puree until mostly but not entirely smooth, leaving a few small chunks of berries intact. If you’d prefer a silkier texture, continue blending until no lumps remain, and pass the pink mixture through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the seeds. Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and set over moderate heat. Whisk frequently as it warms up, cooking until it comes to a full boil. Continue stirring vigorously for a full two minutes and then pour the hot filling into your prepared crust.

Tap the pan lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles, and let cool to room temperature. Only then is it safe to transfer to the fridge to continue cooling. Don’t rush this process, since an agar gel that’s cooled too quickly will weep and become watery later on.

Once fully chilled and solidified, slice and serve with additional fresh berries if desired- Or, additional scoops of ice cream!

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Freekeh Friday

What’s ancient is new again, at least when it comes to whole grains. Freekeh, the latest superfood darling, has made a splash in the culinary scene, appearing on diverse menus that span cuisines to suit all tastes. It’s been around since biblical times, rooted in traditional Middle Eastern and North African cooking, but has recently reinvented itself as the latest nutritional superstar of North America. Even those immune to food trends should take note of this vital ingredient, bearing volumes of flavor and potential to enliven just about any grain dish.

Also referred to as “green wheat” or “young wheat,” it may come as a surprise that this distinctive grain is really the same old cereal we know and love, but treated in a different way. Harvested early while still moist and plump, the kernels are then roasted and frequently cracked, giving them the appearance of bulgur. The similarities end there, made obvious at first bite. Toothsome and chewy, the texture alone is utterly crave-worthy, but the woodsy, nutty, toasted taste and aroma truly seal the deal. Does that sound ordinary to you, pedestrian even, in the face of so many exotic grain options? It did to me, for years resonating as little more than a silly name, but all that will change with your first spoonful. Trust me, eating is believing; I don’t usually cook up big batches of plain grains, but even without a single pinch of salt or pepper, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

Despite devouring a heaping helping of plain freekeh all by its lonesome, I knew there was even more hidden potential locked within those broken kernels. Starting with such a perfect blank canvas, it didn’t take much to coax that untapped inspiration out of hiding.

Of course, I couldn’t resist a good pun, either. With a name like “freekeh,” the possibilities are ripe with witty opportunities. Dirty freekeh, a riff on standard dirty rice, brings so much more than another boring side dish to the party. It sings with spices, bursts with fresh vegetables at every turn, and supports a healthy dose of vegan protein within a hearty grain base. If anything, it’s more like a clean rendition of dirty rice, forgoing the livers and gibbets in favor of tempeh, a swap that even staunch omnivores might appreciate.

If not for the fine folks at Village Harvest, I may have never made the leap to investigate this “new” ancient ingredient. Now that I’m hooked though, it pains me that it’s not more widely available, restricted to a limited release only in select south-east Costco stores. Though slightly heartbroken, I’m still happy to have access to dozens of their other grainy offerings, found nationwide. That sort of everyday luxury is one that everyone should have, which is why I want to share two freebie coupons with two hungry readers, good for any Village Harvest product of your choice. As an added bonus, you’ll even take away a large “Grainivore” t-shirt to boast your love of grains to the world, loud and proud. Interested in entering? Talk to me about freekeh- Have you eaten it before? What’s your favorite preparation? Does the name make you giggle, too? Just be sure to leave me a comment with your name and email in the appropriate boxes before April 30th at midnight EST. This post will be updated shortly thereafter with the announcement of the two selected winners.

UPDATE: The entry period is over and a winner has been selected by the trusty random number generator. The two lucky commenters who are about to get their freekeh on are…

Commenters #6 and #3; Gabby @ the Veggie Nook and sustainabilitea! Congrats, you’ll be hearing from me shortly about how to collect your prizes.

Even if you can’t get your hands on those rarefied bags of cracked freekeh, any grain can be made dirty, so to speak. Just substitute 3 cups of your favorite cooked and cooled whole grains, such as quinoa, barley, farro, or of course, rice.

Dirty Freekeh

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 8-Ounce Package Tempeh, Diced
1/2 Cup Minced Button Mushrooms
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Finely Chopped
3 Large Garlic Cloves, Minced
2 Celery Stalks, Diced
1 Jalapeño Pepper, Seeded and Finely Chopped
1/2 Medium Red Bell Pepper
1 Cup Mushroom Broth
3 Cups Cooked Cracked Freekeh (From 1 Cup Raw)
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
6 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
3 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
1 – 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt

Place 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and wait until it start shimmering. Add in the tempeh and saute, searing the outsides to a crispy golden brown. Stir gently so that you don’t break the cubes into smaller pieces. Once evenly browned on all sides, transfer to a plate and return the pan to the stove.

Pour in the remaining tablespoon of oil, turn down the heat to medium, and toss in the mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cook for 6 – 8 minutes, until aromatic, before introducing the celery, Jalapeño, and bell pepper as well. Stir frequently, sauteing until all the vegetables have softened and are just beginning to lightly brown around the edges. Quickly deglaze with the mushroom broth, scraping the bottom of the pan thoroughly to dislodge anything that might have stuck, preventing the goodies from burning. Introduce the cooked freekeh along with all the spices. Stir well to incorporate and distribute the vegetables throughout.

Turn down the heat to medium-low, allowing the mixture to cook gently until all of the broth has been absorbed. It should still be moist, but not soupy. Turn off the heat, add the cooked, crispy tempeh and fresh herbs into the freekeh. Finally, season to taste, and don’t be afraid to get a bit aggressive with the salt to bring out the most flavor. It may look like a lot on paper, but it’s a whole lot of freekeh we’re talking about!

Serve hot, or let cool, chill thoroughly, and enjoy as a cold grain salad later.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Eats, Shoots and Leaves

A delicacy in many cuisines across the globe and a harbinger of spring, bamboo shoots certainly don’t get a fair shake in western kitchens. Commonly and erroneously considered woody, bland, or worse yet, bitter, these traits apply only to the canned variety, which is the only sort that most people have ever tasted in this part of the world. Available for only a short window as the earth thaws out from winter, fresh bamboo are nothing like the sad slivers found in your average Chinese takeout. Subtly nutty, tender yet toothsome, these pale young plant growths boast a unique nuanced flavor that gets lost in translation once any preservation methods enter the picture.

Now is the time to hunt through specialty produce stores and Asian markets, while bamboo shoots are still available in their natural form. Seek out smooth, unblemished specimen, and always check expiration dates. Even if they’re vital enough to be sold, older shoots should be avoided, as they become progressively harder and more fibrous with every passing day. Considering their scarcity and perishability, it’s not hard to understand why this seasonal treasure is so fleeting. Though I had no intention of buying any nor the vaguest idea of how to cook them, I couldn’t possibly just walk away when I discovered a few saran-wrapped shoots nestled in little Styrofoam boats at the grocery store.

For reasons unknown, it struck me that diced bamboo might make an unconventional yet tasty addition to the classic vegan staple: The humble but ever-popular bean burger. Mild white beans and Asian-inspired flavorings harmonize with the mild vegetable addition without overpowering the whole assembly. Veggie burgers for people who truly appreciate vegetables, these simple patties don’t pretend to be meat and aren’t afraid to show what they’re really made of.

No average white bread buns would do to contain such a special prize. Further accentuating the theme with edible bookends that have more in common with yaki onigiri than dinner rolls, ordinary rice is out of the question. Bamboo rice, infused with the very essence of green bamboo juice, is a perfectly matched pairing, adding another layer of the starring vegetable’s inherent flavor. Floral, reminiscent of jasmine tea with gently grassy, earthy undertones, it may just be my new favorite sort of rice, even without such a fanciful preparation.

Such a hearty yet gracefully composed stack of grains, vegetables, and beans celebrates fresh spring produce through a whole new lens. You don’t have to leave them inside when the weather turns warm, though; carefully packed, unassembled patties, buns, and condiments would make for ideal picnic fodder.

Bamboo Burgers:

1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Cup Diced Fresh Bamboo Shoots
1/2 Cup Finely Diced Button Mushrooms
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups Cooked) White Beans, Drained
5 – 6 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3/4 – 1 Cup All Purpose Flour

Rice Buns:

1 1/2 Cups Water
1 Cup Bamboo Rice
Pinch Salt
2 – 3 Tablespoons Sesame Oil

To Finish:

Sliced Tomatoes
Lettuce
Mustard and/or Vegan Mayonnaise
Fresh Parsley or Cilantro

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Heat the sesame oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When shimmering, add in the garlic, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms, and saute until aromatic. This should take no more than 5 – 6 minutes; be careful not to overdo it and burn the garlic. Deglaze the pan with the soy sauce, turn off the heat, and let cool for at least 10 minutes minutes.

In a separate bowl, roughly mash the beans with a fork or potato masher. You want to keep the texture fairly coarse so that the burger maintains a satisfying bite. Add in the scallions and spices, mixing well to incorporate. Once cool enough to handle, introduce the sauteed vegetables and stir once more. Begin mixing in the first 3/4 cup of flour, making sure that there are no pockets of dry ingredients remaining before assessing the consistency. It should be soft but manageable; something you can fairly easily mold into patties that will hold their shape. Add up to 1/4 cup more flour if necessary.

Measure out between 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the burger mixture for each patty, and form them into round, flat pucks with slightly moistened hands. Space them out evenly on the sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 10 – 15 minutes before removing from the sheet.

Meanwhile, prepare the rice “buns.” (This can also be done well ahead of time, to streamline the serving process.) Bring the water up to a boil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat before adding in the rice and salt. Stir once, turn down the heat to low, and cover. Cook gently for 15 – 20 minutes, undisturbed, until the water has been fully absorbed. Turn off the heat and cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes, until you can comfortably handle it.

Transfer the rice to a non-stick baking dish and press it out into an even layer of about 1/4-inch in thickness. Use a lightly greased glass round cookie cutter to punch out circles to form the bun shape. Make sure that the rounds are large enough to contain your patties, without having a lot of overhang, either. Place the shaped rice buns on a sheet pan and move the whole thing into your freezer to chill rapidly. It’s easier to fry them when they’re very cold, or even partially frozen.

Heat a thin layer of sesame oil in a pan over medium-high heat and fry no more than 2 buns at a time. Cook each side until the exteriors are nicely crisped and amber brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining rice, adding more oil to the pan as needed to prevent the buns from sticking.

To assemble your bamboo burgers, spread a dollop of mustard or mayo on one rice bun. Top with sliced tomato, lettuce, a bamboo patty, and fresh herbs, as desired. The burgers are best enjoyed hot, but are still quite tasty cooled, packed in a lunchbox, and eaten at room temperature.

Makes 6 – 8 Burgers

Printable Recipe

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